Donated plasma lifts patient from ‘rock bottom’ to top student
Fanshawe College student in London, Ont., needs plasma-derived medication for an immune disorder
Around her 18th birthday, Cayleigh Kearns not only came of age, but in many ways also came fully to life.
Throughout her childhood and teenage years, Cayleigh had suffered a nearly continuous series of illnesses: ear infections, sinus infections, respiratory infections. She was rarely well enough to attend school or to participate in activities alongside her friends.
“During my last two years of high school, I hit rock bottom,” says Cayleigh, “I got pneumonia a few times and missed so much school, I didn’t expect to graduate. Then I got the diagnosis and everything began to change.”
Doctors diagnosed Cayleigh with common variable immune deficiency (CVID). While the causes of CVID are murky, its effects are crystal clear: a weakened immune system leaves sufferers prone to debilitating infections. The only effective treatment is immune globulin. This medication is made from plasma, the protein-rich liquid in blood that helps other blood components circulate throughout the body. It also contains active elements of the donors’ immune systems.
Within months of her first immune globulin treatment, Cayleigh’s health improved dramatically.
“There’s no comparison to how I felt,” she says. “I just felt a thousand times better.”
It took several attempts to identify an effective treatment regime for Cayleigh. When her body didn’t respond well to intravenous administration — the most common method — she switched to a method that involves injections at home. Twice a week, Cayleigh gives herself the injections, and rests for a period afterward.
“Maggie, my pet rabbit, helps me get through it all,” says Cayleigh. “You wouldn’t think that a rabbit could be as much fun as a dog or a cat, but she’s just hilarious. She hops around, then jumps up onto the couch and cuddles with me when I do my infusions.”
Doctors expect that Cayleigh will need immune globulin treatments for the rest of her life.
“It’s normal to me now,” she says. “It’s become a routine, a daily part of my life like brushing my teeth.”
Demand for medications made from plasma is rising
Cayleigh is just one of many patients across Canada who rely on donated plasma. Demand for plasma and plasma products is rapidly increasing, as they are used to effectively treat a growing number of immune deficiencies, bleeding disorders, cancers, and kidney and liver diseases. It’s possible to donate plasma in many communities across Canada. To meet the demand, Canadian Blood Services is also opening new plasma donor centres in Sudbury, Lethbridge and Kelowna.
Since regaining her health, Cayleigh Kearns has become a top student at Fanshawe College in her hometown of London, Ontario. Now in her second year of the Child and Youth Care Program, she maintains a 3.5 grade-point average.
“It means the world to me to be able to attend classes and to focus, because before, I couldn’t even get to school. I couldn’t even get out of bed,” Cayleigh says. “It feels amazing to finally succeed at something that I’m passionate about.”
Cayleigh recognizes that she owes her health to the generosity of plasma donors. To show her appreciation, she visited the Canadian Blood Services donor centre in London last winter, where she met several regular donors.
“It was amazing,” she says. “It felt so good to hug them and thank them, and they really appreciated meeting someone who benefitted from their donations. I don’t think it gets much better than that.”
Donating plasma can make a lifesaving difference to patients across Canada with Common Variable Immune Deficiency and many other conditions. Visit blood.ca/donate or call 1 888 2 DONATE to make an appointment. You can also book with the GiveBlood app.