When Caitlin Ponder began to feel unwell in early March 2020, she chalked it up to allergies due to having a cough. Little did she know, in a few short months, she would be helping to save lives through a convalescent plasma donation with the American Red Cross.
Caitlin is no stranger to the lifesaving work of the Red Cross; in fact, it seems to run in her family. “My paternal grandmother was a volunteer who used to run blood drives in Westchester County, New York,” Caitlin said. “My husband, Brandon, is the Chief Development Officer for the American Red Cross in Connecticut and Rhode Island.”
In addition to her family ties, Caitlin is also a blood donor and has seen the impact first-hand. “I have had family and friends who have needed blood due to accidents or illnesses, so I always said yes to donating blood.”
Caitlin’s journey to her COVID-19 diagnosis and subsequently, her first-ever plasma donation has been like so much surrounding this new and evolving respiratory illness, uncharted territory. While the rapidly changing information seemed to ping incessantly
on our collective news alerts and social media feeds in early March, many of Caitlin’s symptoms were days and weeks ahead of our news feeds. “I started experiencing symptoms the beginning of March when there wasn’t nearly as much information regarding COVID-19 as there is today,” she said. “I never had a fever which was said to be the main symptom or indicator of COVID-19.”
Luckily, the symptoms Caitlin experienced, compared to many others who have fought COVID-19, were relatively mild, albeit unpleasant. “I experienced awful headaches, body aches, extreme fatigue, stomach issues, a deep cough and loss of taste and smell,” she said. “My chest felt tight throughout, even when the cough subsided.”
By mid-March Caitlin was notified that she had been exposed to COVID-19 and was tested. By the end of the month, when her symptoms had subsided, she was finally notified that she had tested positive. Even today, she is easily winded, a reminder of the virus that continues to claim lives around the world.
On April 6, 2020, the American Red Cross, along with America’s Blood Centers and the AABB announced they had joined with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in a national effort to support the collection and distribution of convalescent plasma, a potentially life-saving treatment for critically ill COVID-19 patients. People who have fully recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their plasma that can attack the virus. This convalescent plasma is being evaluated as treatment for patients with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections, or those judged by a healthcare provider to be at high risk of progression to severe or life-threatening disease.
In June 2020, Caitlin, with her husband Brandon alongside her, donated convalescent plasma at the Red Cross Blood Donation Center in Farmington, Connecticut, to help someone who is hospitalized due to COVID-19. For Caitlin, rolling up her sleeve to help the fight against COVID-19 wasn’t something she needed to be asked to do. “I am not sure if it was ever a question in my mind whether to donate or not. I wanted to help others and felt like I was lucky to have had such a mild case of COVID. It’s a completely new disease to the world of medicine. If this can help in any way to flatten the curve and to have things open again, I am GAME!”
If you are fully recovered from COVID-19, please consider signing up to donate convalescent plasma at RedCrossBlood.org/Plasma4Covid.