After battling COVID-19, Andrew Smith and his wife Jennifer search for ways to help others

Andrew and Jennifer Smith smile in London. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Smith)

As doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals are searching for ways they can help their communities. Some are making cloth masks to donate, while others are tending to their essential work to provide food or groceries for others.

Some, however, might be able to directly aid individuals who are currently fighting COVID-19.

According to the American Red Cross, people who have fully recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their plasma that can attack the virus and potentially help treat patients with serious infections.

After a spring break trip to London, Andrew Smith, professor of practice in the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications, his wife Jennifer Smith, who teaches at several universities including Kansas State, and their two daughters contracted COVID-19.

Andrew developed the most severe case and suffered blood clots, bilateral pneumonia and spent five days in the intensive care unit at Ascension Via Christi. Andrew said he felt like he had a lot of support while he was battling COVID-19.

“It took away a lot of the stress and it made me happier because I saw all of the support,” Andrew said. “So instead of having my body fight the stress and worry and fear, it could just fight the coronavirus.”

As part of his treatment, Andrew took blood thinners — a factor which contributed to him being unable to donate plasma. However, Jennifer qualified.

After experiencing the difficulties of COVID-19 firsthand, Jennifer said she read about the opportunity to donate plasma and wanted to help others.

“Once we found out that [donating plasma] was a possibility, we were both very aggressive in [finding] out whether or not we could,” Andrew said. “Jennifer is so service-oriented and so community-minded that it was absolutely a natural thing for her to say ‘I’ve suffered with this, let me help ease somebody else’s suffering.’”

After recovery, she traveled to a Red Cross location in Salina to donate plasma.

“[COVID-19] is such an unknown,” Jennifer said. “So many people are just suffering from this and there doesn’t seem to be a known way to solve this. If there is any way that my blood could help somebody else, I absolutely want to contribute to the solution.”

Jennifer said donating plasma took about two and a half hours, and it is estimated the plasma she donated could help as many as three people with COVID-19.

The week prior to Jennifer’s donation, the Red Cross collected plasma in Oklahoma City to help treat a patient with a severe case of COVID-19 and saw improvement within a few hours, Jennifer said. Jennifer’s donation in Salina was the first time the Red Cross had collected plasma for COVID-19 in the area.

“I think more people have had [COVID-19] than we realize,” Jennifer said. “I think that because we can be carriers and be completely without symptoms, we don’t know who’s had it. But if you even imagine that you’ve had anything that feels like that, it’s worth asking for the antibody test … [to] see if you can be part of the solution.”

To qualify to donate plasma, you must be at least 17 years of age, 110 lbs, in good health, have a verified diagnosis of COVID-19 and be fully recovered and symptom-free, according to the American Red Cross.

“Our natural behavior is to sink into fear,” Jennifer said. “This isolation isn’t a life sentence, it’s just a period of time. Trying to keep perspective on it is important, [and] to stay positive to the best of our ability and to encourage others to do so as well, not to feed into the fear.”