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Middle school teacher, recovered from virus, wants to donate plasma, help others

Julia Sabia Motley recovered from COVID-19 and hopes

Julia Sabia Motley recovered from COVID-19 and hopes to donate plasma to help other patients. Credit: Julia Sabia Motley

Julia Sabia Motley feels lucky to have recovered from her bout with COVID-19 and is eager to pay it forward — with her plasma.

Motley, a math teacher at Grand Avenue Middle School in Bellmore, was one of the first people who signed up to see if she could donate plasma for a clinical trial at Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine.

Scientists are hoping antibodies in plasma from recovering COVID-19 patients can be used in current patients to combat the virus. Stony Brook is part of several clinical trials taking place across Long Island.

Motley, 57, and her husband, Sean, 59, started feeling symptoms such as fatigue, headaches and fever in mid-March, several days after schools were closed. They were initially unable to get tested because they had not knowingly come into contact with anyone who tested positive for the virus.

They finally were tested at a local urgent care site and continued to self-isolate in their Merrick home to battle the virus. Their three adult children sheltered in place in their own apartments. Their Wenshaw Park neighbors dropped off food, and colleagues covered Motley's distance-learning math classes with students.

“I am so desperate at this point to give back,” Motley said. “There are so many people I know who are infected. Anything I can do to help scientists.”

She turned to her son Michael, a medical student studying infectious diseases at Stony Brook, who told her about the clinical trial.

Sean Motley was told he was not a candidate because he had donated blood in March, before becoming sick. Julia Sabia Motley said a preliminary blood test showed her plasma is rich with antibodies. But she has to clear one more hurdle before donating — taking another COVID-19 test to show a negative result.

“We are screening many, many people to come in and donate convalescent plasma,” said Dr. Elliott Bennett-Guerrero, professor and vice chair, Department of Anesthesiology, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook, who is leading the study. “We are working at lightning speed to get this up and running.”

But not every person recovering from COVID-19 will be able to donate plasma. So far, he said, about half of the potential donors they tested have high levels of antibodies. “That is great news,” he said.

Potential donors must undergo the same screening and testing protocols used for blood donations. They need to give their consent, complete a health questionnaire and have a drop of blood taken via finger stick to determine their antibody levels, Bennett-Guerrero said.

If they have a high enough level of antibodies, blood will be drawn to screen for diseases.

In addition, people who have not gone a full 28 days without symptoms will receive another COVID-19 swab test to make sure they no longer have the virus.

“We are not collecting plasma from people who have active COVID-19 infection,” Bennett-Guerrero said.

People who make the final cut will be allowed to donate, a process that takes about 45 minutes. But instead of donating whole blood, the plasma will be removed and the red blood cells and platelets returned into the donor’s body.

One session could yield enough plasma to treat two patients, Bennett-Guerrero said.

“While we are incredibly optimistic and hopeful, we really don’t know,” he said. “Just because it has worked with other infections doesn’t mean it is going to be effective for this virus.”

Motley said she hopes her plasma donation is the silver lining to a difficult experience.

“I’m not someone who gets sick often, but I was really down for the count for a while,” she said. “The doctors said I could do this every week. I’m really hopeful I can help.”

Potential donors should visit the website to fill out an online survey.