A final year dental student shares her experience of getting coronavirus and calls on other dentists to donate plasma to help save lives.
Emily continues to donate blood plasma to support critically ill patients
I contracted COVID-19 just before the government lockdown, as I went home from Bristol Dental School for an early Easter holiday in mid-March. It was quite a rollercoaster. Today I’m telling my story, in the hope that I can
inspire people to donate convalescent blood plasma to help combat COVID-19.
“I had central chest pain/tightness, shortness of breath, and loss of taste and smell.”
When my term at University ended early, I had no idea I wouldn’t be returning for six months. I headed to my family home in Oxford for what I presumed would be a month-long Easter holiday, and the following evening I developed a fever. I had central chest pain/tightness, shortness of breath, and loss of taste and smell. But I was fortunate, I recovered from COVID-19 quickly.”
By early April, I was told I would not be returning to dental school until September. I was anxious about the impact this would have on my clinical studies as a fourth-year dental student. But once I fully recovered, I decided that I wanted to use the extra time on my hands to help the NHS deal with the pandemic.
Supporting the pandemic response
After extensively looking through the NHS jobs website, I found that the ambulance service in my area was recruiting for call handlers specifically for COVID-19. My younger brother, who is a second-year medical student at Leeds, and I both applied. Within two weeks of sending off an application form, I was in the classroom learning how to handle national 111 calls specifically about COVID-19, as the South-Central Ambulance Service became the national hub taking calls related to coronavirus in England.
“Working on the phones, I saw how badly COVID-19 was hitting some people.”
Working on the phones, I saw how badly COVID-19 was hitting some people. It was one thing to hear it from my parents and the news, but another to speak to a breathless patient on the phone and send them an emergency ambulance. So I jumped at the opportunity, when I heard I could sign up and donate my plasma to help those sickest coronavirus patients
as of part of a national NHS trial.
Donating plasma to combat COVID-19
I was one of the first people at the centre to donate convalescent plasma specifically for COVID-19 patients, and I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I had donated blood before, but this is different. The blood is centrifuged and returned to you, which means it takes a bit longer than blood donation, but I felt fine afterwards because you don’t reduce your blood volume or red blood cell count. This also means you can donate blood plasma every 2 weeks, rather than every six months for blood.
The screening process is quite extensive, as they need to establish if you have therapeutic levels of neutralizing antibodies to benefit patients. Although I was exposed to COVID-19 seven months ago, my antibody levels have remained high, so I am trying to donate as often as I can, because I suspect that my levels will not remain therapeutic forever.
If you’ve had COVID, please donate your plasma
“I would encourage anyone who has been exposed to COVID-19, to consider donating their plasma.”
I would encourage anyone who has been exposed to COVID-19, to consider donating their plasma for critically ill patients. I am now back at dental school and donating plasma in Bristol. Knowing that I’m doing something good, has helped my sense of wellbeing and kept me focused on my studies.
All dental students have concerns about completing our degrees and beyond, particularly with the restrictions on performing dental aerosol generating procedures, the reduced opportunities to develop our clinical skills, and the reduced patient contact is challenging. But we can all do positive things to support each other during this difficult time. Donating blood plasma is one of them.
If you’ve had COVID-19, please consider donating blood plasma. If you have not, then consider donating blood. NHS Blood and Transplant are always looking for new blood donors. You could help save a life!
Final Year Dental Student