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One of the biggest questions about the coronavirus pandemic is just how many people have actually been infected with the virus, and one of the ways to find out is through an antibody test. 

Through Aug. 31, all blood donations to the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center will undergo a COVID-19 antibody test. This test is only offered in conjunction with a blood donation. 

After the center received numerous calls and inquiries into the antibody test, the decision was made to give it as a thank- you to anyone donating to the blood bank. 

“We hope this encourages more people to give blood, to help address blood shortages caused by the continued cancellations of blood drives, as organizations deal with new coronavirus guidelines and staff working from home,” said Elizabeth Waltman, chief operating officer of the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center. 

Across Texas, 11,862 people have tested positive for the antibodies for COVID-19 — about 4.5% of all those who have been tested for the antibodies.

On Saturday, the center was at The Point Theater to solicit blood donations from Hill Country residents. 

The antibody test is not a diagnostic test. It’s not for people who have COVID-19 symptoms, and it doesn’t check for the presence of the virus. 

It does check for past infections and the presence of IgG antibodies. The test is also 99.4% accurate.  

I visited the donation center on Saturday morning and wrote this first-hand account of what to expect when you donate blood in the time of coronavirus. 

 

MY EXPERIENCE

I scheduled a time to donate, and it will be good to know if I have the antibodies. However, a positive test result does not mean you are immune. It simply means you were exposed at some point and have developed antibodies. 

I’ve also never given blood before. The plan is to go to The Point Theater at 11 a.m. and fill out a long form about basic medical history and contact

with needles or people with certain conditions.  

I passed that part of the test, happily.  

Now I just have to get a good night’s sleep and drink plenty of water.

I’m worried about passing out — I’ve never given blood before, so we will see! Do I drink orange juice? I remember something about juice. Maybe they have some at the truck if it’s a prerequisite. 

 

SATURDAY MORNING

Arriving at the donor bus, the parking lot is empty and it looks like it will be quick and easy. I step into the bus; it is lined with blood donor beds and medical tools and machines. The max occupancy is 10; we are a total of seven with the medical staff. 

There is one woman on a bed staring at the wall because she hates the sight of blood, and one man asking all kinds of questions and talking about how nervous he is.

Should I be nervous? 

I didn’t think so.

But there’s no orange juice. 

I go to a waiting area to the side where they ask me more basic questions about my health and recent interactions, take my temperature and blood pressure. 

“Keep on Loving You” by Journey is playing on the radio; it calms me. 

Within 10 minutes, I’m taken into a very small computer room where I have to do the long questionnaire all over again on their computer. It must be done after midnight on the day of donation. I passed that test. The only question I get stuck on is “Are you sensitive to citrus?” I am, and I wonder what that has to do with anything. Is this why I have orange juice stuck in my head? 

Finally, I’m led to the bed, which is very comfortable but chilly. Bonus: I get yummy snacks! Just finished my first bag of cookies, still waiting on the blood bags to get set up. Getting close to getting the needle now, and “Stray Cat Strut” is on. Must be ’80s day at the blood van. I’m perfectly fine with that! 

OK, the needle is in, and I’m squeezing every few seconds to keep the blood flowing. I’m watching the bag in the oscillating dish become more and more full. The dish weighs the blood, along with keeping it fresh and preventing sticking. 

Two donor guys behind me are acting like they are back in the Army. Talking about being in training and all the memories.

I’m waiting to feel dizzy or whatever happens when you have one less pint of life-giving material inside you. They separate the vials so that some will go to the tests and the rest will go to the donation. I’m shivering. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s about 58 degrees in here or I’m feeling a lack of my warm blood. 

The Army guys are still talking about wars and guns, so I distract myself with their banter but keep forgetting to squeeze the little red cushion in my fist, but the bag is filling. I was told I’m almost done, and I feel totally normal so far. 

The test will take more than a week to come back. 

If I test positive for antibodies, I may be asked to come back and donate convalescent plasma for patients already in the hospital, fighting for their lives. 

This plasma could boost a sick patient’s immune system, helping them fight off the disease.

STBTC began collecting convalescent plasma in April to provide to hospitals as part of a nationwide study sponsored by the Mayo Clinic. So far, it has shown promising results.

Donating convalescent plasma is only different in the material they remove, but it’s the same process as what I just did.  

It felt great finishing up, but about 45 minutes later, I’m starting to feel a little tired and weak. 

I’m going to rest for an hour before my next meeting. It does take a fair amount of energy-giving iron out of your system. 

Now, I wait and see if I have the antibodies and could possibly help someone already in the hospital. The results will be mailed and are also available online. 

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