First patient at UPMC receives convalescent plasma treatment for COVID-19

By: Alex Nixon

A potential new treatment for COVID-19 was administered this week to the first UPMC patient thanks to a donation of convalescent plasma. The treatment, which involves an infusion of blood from a person who has recovered from COVID-19 to a critically ill patient, is being offered at UPMC as part of a national clinical trial.

The goal of the program is to find out if blood containing antibodies for the disease can reduce the severity of illness in patients receiving the plasma.

UPMC began screening potential donors last week and received its first blood donations this past weekend from Vitalant, the blood donation organization previously known as Central Blood Bank.

“We received a great yield of plasma from our first two donors, and more are on the way to being referred,” said Dr. John McDyer, director of UPMC’s Lung Transplantation Translational Research Program and the principal investigator for UPMC’s clinical trial site. “That enabled us to give our first dose of convalescent plasma to a patient here at UPMC Presbyterian who is critically ill with COVID-19.”

One of the first two donors, Joel Le Gall, a landscape architect from Forest Hills, had been sick with COVID-19 for about two weeks after returning from a trip to France at the beginning of March. During his illness, Le Gall said his fever hit 104 degrees on one day, high enough that he feared he might become seriously ill and need hospitalization. He has since fully recovered and has returned to work.

“I consider myself one of the lucky ones,” Le Gall said. “I think this is important, and if I can help someone get out of the ICU and somehow get better from this, then I am happy to help.”

All potential donors must previously have had a confirmed case of COVID-19 and been over their illness for at least three weeks, have the antibodies that neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 virus detected in their blood, and test negative for the virus before donating.

Donations from Le Gall and others are expected to be used to treat multiple patients, McDyer said. “We anticipate one plasma donor could potentially help two to three patients.”

As more donors are identified, the goal is to build up an inventory of convalescent plasma in Pittsburgh to treat more patients over the long term.

“It’s great to have patients who are reaching out and volunteering and willing to take the time to come in for a screening – and then to take the time to go to Vitalant to donate. We are grateful for these patients helping in this effort,” McDyer said.

People interested in donating plasma should email the COVID Convalescent Plasma Pittsburgh Project at

Read more about UPMC’s convalescent plasma treatment project.