Nothing was working. Fifty-year-old Sainudeen’s condition was getting worse. He had come to the Manjeri Medical College in Malappuram with fever and breathing trouble in mid-June. He had just arrived in Kerala from Muscat.
At first, he was diagnosed with pneumonia, even as his samples were taken to test for COVID-19. But in the Intensive Care Unit, Sainudeen had a heart attack. By then the results of the test too had come back positive for coronavirus. He wasn’t responding to treatment.
Desperate, Dr Shinas Babu, nodal officer at the Medical College, called a young man who had recovered from COVID-19 only days ago. The doctor asked 23-year-old Vineeth Ravi if he was ready to donate his blood to try plasma therapy on the ailing Sainudeen. Vineeth reached the medical college within two hours of the call. The plasma was extracted from his blood and given to Sainudeen, who finally began to show signs of recovery.
Two weeks later, he tested negative for coronavirus and went home. He is the first patient in the state to recover with plasma therapy. Three others who are being treated with plasma therapy are still under treatment in Malappuram and Thrissur, and have not tested negative for the virus yet. The fifth person – Hamsakoya, a former footballer – could not be saved and succumbed to the disease in early June.
“The state medical board has advised us to try plasma therapy as a last resort and I remembered Vineeth had gone home after recovering from the disease more than two weeks ago. Plasma therapy requires the blood of a person who has recovered at least 14 days ago and has the same blood group as the patient,” says Dr Shinas.
Vineeth matched both criteria. He had contracted the disease from Chennai where he had gone to help at a friend’s store. He came to Kerala in mid-May with symptoms of the disease that he first thought were an effect of climate change. But on reaching Kerala, he was afraid to go home where his parents and younger brother lived.
“I feared going home with these symptoms and requested the panchayat to provide me quarantine facilities elsewhere. The health inspector referred me to a doctor, who referred me to another doctor, and I was sent to the Manjeri Medical College, where my samples were collected for testing. Three days later, the results came back positive,” Vineeth says.
It took another 13 days in hospital isolation for Vineeth to recover from the disease and go home to Edapal, about 60 km from the hospital. He had to be in home quarantine for 14 days after that. “But even after the 14-day period I continued to be in quarantine, just to be safe. On the 18th day, Dr Shinas called me to ask if I could come to the hospital immediately to donate plasma. There was a serious patient admitted there. He said that it was urgent. It was raining hard that day. I told my mother about the doctor’s call. She said that I should eat something and go right away, that if my blood could save a life, there was nothing to think about.”
So he went in the rain, riding his bike for nearly two hours and donated the plasma.
Sainudeen’s condition began to improve the very next day. Two weeks later, Dr Shinas called Vineeth again, this time to tell him that the patient he gave his plasma to has recovered.
“He asked me if I could come to the hospital. I went. There I met the person I donated my blood to. He (Sainudeen) told me, ‘Always do these good acts. God will see it and at some corner in the world, he will return it to you.’”