At least four NBA players who have recovered from COVID-19 plan to donate blood for an experimental treatment that could help high-risk patients overcome the virus, according to Dr. Michael Joyner, a member of the leadership team of the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project.
The experimental therapy, called convalescent plasma, utilizes the antibodies in blood donated from recovered patients to potentially curb the virus in the sickest patients.
Joyner, an anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic, said Tuesday that his team will work with players to find donation sites.
On Sunday, the NBA league office reached out to team physicians encouraging players who have recovered from the virus to consider opting in to the experimental treatment, according to a copy of the memo obtained by ABC News.
The NBA also donated $100,000 to the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project as part of the NBA Together campaign.
The NBA’s donation and plea for players to opt in to the program comes amid criticism that the league coordinated VIP testing of players while other Americans showing symptoms struggled to access tests. Dr. Joyner said that while “testing at many levels will be highlighted” when all is said and done, the players deserve credit for offering their help.
“I think you have to do what's in front of you right now,” Joyner said. “The players themselves had nothing to do with getting into the VIP lane. It's one of those things about celebrities in the United States, and we're not going to solve that problem in the middle of this crisis.”
Marcus Smart, a guard for the Boston Celtics, confirmed through his agent that he is one of the players who will opt in to the program. Smart announced Monday on Twitter that he had been cleared of the virus by the Massachusetts Department of Health.
The identities of the other three players planning to participate are not known.
Joyner said professional athletes could be valuable donors not only for their platform to spread awareness of the disease, but also physiologically.
“These are big men with blood volumes, and as a result have a lot of plasma volume,” Joyner said. “Frequently people who are physically trained also have an increase in their plasma volume from what you would expect from them just being regular-sized guys.”
With an approved vaccine still months away at best, doctors say the experimental treatment offers a ray of hope for medical professionals and patients alike.
“We believe it can be disease-modifying and reduce duration and severity in some patients,” said Joyner said.
Physicians and scientists from 34 institutions in 17 states are investigating the use of convalescent plasma in the current COVID-19 pandemic, according to the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project.
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