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KOCHI: It was a rainy morning in June. Vineeth Ravi, a 23-year-old engineering graduate, was at home after finishing the 14-day quarantine period post his recovery from the coronavirus infection. His phone rang. On the other end, was a doctor from the Medical College Hospital in Manjeri where he had been treated. He was asked if he could come in immediately to donate plasma for the treatment of a Covid-19 patient who was in a critical condition. Despite the pouring rain, Vineeth’s mother prodded him to leave immediately for the hospital, 60 km away.
“I didn’t think twice. The doctor was calling me for help and I knew it had to be something serious,” said Vineeth, who biked to the hospital that day to donate plasma.
There was another reason why Vineeth didn’t waste a minute. He knew it was the least he could do in return for the compassionate treatment he received at the hospital when he was admitted for Covid-19.
“It was the best possible treatment I could have ever gotten… the doctors and nurses, who sat by my side, risking their lives in order to save my life… a bunch of people whom I have never met in life just going about taking care of us. Their dedication and commitment was overwhelming,” he said.
“Anything that I could ever do for them would fall short.”
But it didn’t. Vineeth’s blood plasma helped in bringing back to life Sainuddin Baqvi, incidentally the first Covid-19 patient in Kerala to recover through convalescent plasma therapy. It also set off the creation of the state’s first plasma bank at the Manjeri Medical College Hospital in Malappuram district where 29 Covid-negative persons have donated so far. Over 200 others, who have all been treated at the hospital, have expressed their willingness to donate.
Dr Shinas Babu, the Covid-19 nodal officer at the hospital, said it took little to no effort to convince them to donate. “They are all ready to give. Because, at the hospital, we have treated all patients with utmost love and care. Now, they are returning the same love and care by doubling it,” he said.
A recovered patient who returned to the hospital to donate his plasma. Over 200 have expressed their desire to donate their plasma to help others recover from Covid-19.
Even when these persons were under treatment at the hospital, Dr Babu and his team had begun to create WhatsApp groups for them so that they could mingle freely with the doctors, feel a sense of unity and express the problems they were facing such as mental health issues. When the idea of convalescent plasma therapy began doing the rounds as an effective treatment protocol for critically-ill patients, the doctors immediately decided to pitch it to those who have recovered through the same groups.
There were conditions though. The donor has to be between 18-50 years, weigh more than 55 kg and be free of any comorbidities. The plasma can be taken 14 days after a person tests negative twice for coronavirus.
“Out of the 750 persons who have recovered so far at the hospital, over 200 who match the criteria are willing to donate. As more and more persons recover, the number of donors also increases by the day,” said Dr Babu.
So far, at the hospital, out of the five patients who underwent plasma therapy, four have tested Covid-negative with one death.
Sainuddin Baqvi with Vineeth Ravi, whose plasma helped Baqvi recover.
Sainuddin Baqvi, among those who recovered through the procedure, interestingly had no recollection that he was in a critical condition throughout his stay of 20 days at the hospital. The 50-year-old madrassa teacher, who lived in Oman for the past 20 years, had returned to Kerala on June 6 with bouts of breathlessness. His heart ailments made it worse.
“I didn’t want to trouble anyone so I went straight to the hospital. The doctors took the ECG and later took samples for Covid. Meanwhile, as I began losing breath, I was admitted to the ICU,” said Baqvi over the phone from his home in Thrithala in Palakkad district.
“I got to know that I was Covid-positive only on the day of discharge from the hospital. Apparently, I had a bout of pneumonia and even suffered a cardiac arrest. The doctors and nurses, without scaring me at all, took such great care of me that I’ll be forever grateful to them.”
On June 26, the day Baqvi prepared to leave the hospital, the doctors had a surprise for him. They brought in Vineeth who finally met the person whose life was saved through his plasma. The duo, their faces covered by masks, smiled and shook hands.
“He is a good person and has a lovely family. This is proof that humanity exists. We may be fighting against a pandemic, but the love we have for each other is the best feeling in the world,” said Baqvi.