Convalescent plasma drive draws record number of donors

Lauren Rathel and her mother, Stacie, rolled up their sleeves on Tuesday to donate convalescent plasma after surviving COVID-19.

"I want to be able to save another dad or another mom who was maybe in my situation," Lauren Rathel explained.

Her father, Michael Kevin Rathel, was given a 20% chance of surviving COVID-19 back in April, before being placed into a medically-induced coma at Orlando Health.  His wife begged doctors to try the experimental treatment using the convalescent plasma. The problem was, they needed a donor.

"We don’t want people to have to go through how difficult it was for us to get it and obtain it for my husband," Stacie Rathels said.

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Through a mutual friend on Facebook, they found their "needle in a haystack" in James Crocker.  On April 8, Rathel became the first convalescent plasma recipient at Orlando Health.

After seeing the life he saved, Crocker created, a site linking donors and those needing convalescent plasma. He offered antibody tests in the parking lot of his business, Hog Technologies.

"We tested over 670 people right here in this lobby. We hired a local blood collector people licensed skilled in that trade, have the insurance. We’ve identified a lot of donors," he said. "Now we’re doing this donation. I hope this is the start of something larger."

Around two-dozen COVID-19 survivors signed up for Tuesday's convalescent plasma drive. Cecilia Lawton was one of the donors who rolled up her sleeves.

"It is very personal, yes," she said. "Four out of five of our family members got COVID."

RELATED: Convalescent plasma treatment inspires others

Her husband, Marvin, wound up in the intensive care unit at Orlando Health.

"He started having respiratory distress, so they put him on a ventilator and from there, his conditions worsened," Lawton added.

She says they saw the report about Kevin Rathel receiving a convalescent plasma donation and went to work.

"My kids tirelessly went through social media trying to find people. They said if you can get a direct donor, we’ll do it," Lawton explained.

Curt Crocker, brother to James, answered that call on Easter morning.

"Before they were even able to get his donation, my husband had already passed," Lawton said.

At that same time, Kevin Rathel woke up from his coma.

"We don’t know what would happen, but maybe if we had been able to get plasma a few days earlier, that it would have given him a better rate of survival," Lawton said. 

The Crocker family saw the need for getting convalescent plasma donations in a timely manner, starting the website and launching drives.

"You take 45 minutes, get a little arm stick and give them life," said Curt Crocker. "It’s amazing! Awesome!"

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