• Plasma shortage depriving some Mass. patients of necessary treatments

    By: Heather Hegedus

    Updated:

    HANSON, Mass. - A blood product derived from human blood plasma is in short supply and hospitals are scrambling to make sure there's enough for patients who can’t live without it.

    Many of those patients, like Cat Novak, are children. Novak's been in and out of the hospital since she was an infant. 

    "Constant infections," her mother, Rachel Novak, said. "No matter what they did they could not get the infections under control."

    The 11-year-old from Hanson has spent her young life sick and on antibiotics. She was diagnosed with a primary immune deficiency after doctors discovered her body doesn't produce enough immunoglobulin -- antibodies produced by plasma cells that act as a critical part of the immune response in fighting infection.

    The treatment is intravenous immunoglobulin or IVIG.  

    "Since the IVIG -- knock on wood -- she has not spent more than one night in the hospital," Rachel said. 

    But a nationwide shortage is causing local hospitals to scale back or switch patients to other treatments. Patients who rely on this life-saving treatment, like Cat.

    "Her case is still under review. My understanding is at a minimum they will all be reduced 25 percent," Rachel told Boston 25 News. 

    The Novaks asked family and friends to donate plasma but were surprised to find it wasn't so easy.

    The Red Cross prefers specific blood types -- AB positive or AB negative. While The Red Cross says they won't turn donors away, the Novaks said they have had friends be turned away. So they made the trip to specialized plasma donation centers. The problem is there are several in Rhode Island, but there aren't any in Massachusetts.

    "Obviously we have some of the top hospitals in the world here in Boston and yet we have no plasma donation centers," Rachel said.

    It's believed the IVIG shortage may be caused by the increasing number of medical conditions that benefit from IVIG have put pressure on the supply chain. Everything from Lyme disease to autoimmune issues can be helped by it.

    Cat's friend Tessa LeBlanc is an example of someone benefitting from a newer use of IVIG. Her infusions have already been reduced.

    Tessa and Cat are encouraging people to donate plasma and would like to see stand-alone plasma donation centers open in Massachusetts.

    The Red Cross says blood donations are down. Early this month, we reported there were 450 fewer blood drives organized during the week of July 4. It led to about 17,000 fewer blood donations than in previous years. 

    Blood banks are down to less than a 3-day supply of most blood types. At least a five-day supply is desired.

    For more information on where to donate, visit the Red Cross website

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