Sharing the ‘good’ in us

Juanita donating blood.

The first time Juanita Ellington donated blood, she was in her late 20s and became a little woozy during the process. She opted not to donate for a while, but then COVID hit. In December 2020, Juanita fell ill with COVID-19, which left traces of the virus’s antibodies in her blood. So, after a 30-year hiatus, Juanita decided to donate her platelets and plasma, specifically to help those who were sick.

As Juanita explains, “I had COVID; I know what it feels like. I feel very fortunate that I was not in the hospital like others, suffering.”

Before Juanita took ill, her father experienced a rapid decline due to an unrelated, pre-existing condition. Sick and isolated, Juanita endured her father’s failing health, his subsequent admission to the hospital, and his untimely demise. After a horrific year of unrest, sickness, and death, Juanita is determined to turn her tribulations into positive outcomes through regular blood donations.

Why did you feel called to donate?

When something wells up inside of you, it spurs within your soul or heart. I believe God talks to us in many mysterious ways, and we need to turn inward to ourselves and listen to it. We’re here to help each other. I wanted to give back.

Your father passed away while you were sick with COVID-19?

He went to the hospital, and I just knew within my soul I was never going to see him again. It was an emotional dive, and that’s when the virus grabbed me: when I was at my emotional low point. When they’re that old, and when an infection starts to set in, even if it’s a light infection, they go down quick. It’s just so surreal; it doesn’t really feel real. I got to talk to him on Facetime [before he passed].

How did you overcome this challenging time? I couldn’t even think about anything negative. [Negative thoughts] took my energy away even more. I tell my kids, if I’m sick and you’re going to talk to me, I can only hear positive, uplifting things. I had to envision myself well.

Any advice to people thinking about donating blood, plasma, or platelets?

Do it; just do it. I don’t want someone to die from [COVID], and if I can help then, why not? With my experience, if I can save someone from all that trauma, I’m happy to do it. Some people ask, ‘why do you give? You’re giving away what your body needs.’ And I go, ‘you’re always making blood.’ If it’s healthy enough to share, give it away and [I’ll] let my body replenish a new stock. Why not share what’s good in you? It’s a good feeling. I don’t plan on stopping.

Editor’s note: Historically, convalescent plasma has been used as a potentially lifesaving treatment in some situations when new diseases or infections develop quickly, and no treatments or vaccines were available yet. Convalescent plasma is plasma collected from patients who have recovered from an infection and have antibodies that might help fight that infection—in this case patients who have fully recovered from COVID-19. More recently, some information suggests that convalescent plasma could help some coronavirus patients – especially those who are seriously ill.

The American Red Cross is testing all blood donations for COVID-19 antibodies. Plasma from routine blood and platelet donations that test positive for high-levels of antibodies may be used as convalescent plasma to meet potential future needs of COVID-19 patients. However, after March 26 the Red Cross will not be collecting dedicated convalescent plasma donations. To date, tens of thousands of donors have rolled up their sleeves to give their COVID-19 plasma, enabling the Red Cross to collect and distribute more than 150,000 convalescent plasma products to hospitals nationwide.

Sarah Ward is a volunteer writer with the Northern California Coastal Region.