Those eligible will donate plasma to COVID patients

Am I an eligible recovered coronavirus patient? That was the question on the minds of Queens residents on Monday afternoon, May 4, at a mobile testing center at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills sponsored by the Refuah Health Center in Spring Valley, in conjunction with Mount Sinai Health System in New York City. With the acknowledgement of the medical community that recovered COVID-19 patients’ blood plasma can save lives, and the overall knowledge that our community had many recovered individuals, COVID Plasma Initiative with the help of the Queens Jewish Link, Bukharian Jewish Link, and the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, made an effort to bring a testing site to our neighborhood and allow our friends and neighbors to join the growing community of COVID-19 survivors who have mobilized to fight the virus. Refuah Health began its testing on April 3 and has continuously worked onwards to provide relief.

Rabbi Etan Tannenbaum, the rav of Beis Medrash Zichron Shalom, recently recovered from the virus and received an alert from Agudath Israel of America promoting testing. “I find it a brilliant idea to assist in any way we can and potentially be able to help those who are suffering,” he said. Maurice Orlanski happened to walk by the mobile testing center and knew his wife Ellen would be pleased to get tested. “It is my utter joy to join in this magical mitzvah,” Mrs. Orlanski stated.

It was a special sight to see so many local residents show their support for the program. Rabbi Binyamin Mittel is the associate rabbi at Khal Nachlas Avos and, as well, emerged healthy after fighting the virus. “It is fulfilling to have gone through such a sickness and be able to share my immunity with someone diagnosed with the disease,” expressed the rav.

Our testing site was honored to host three commanding Jewish personalities who have been making tremendous waves promoting the need for those in the frum community who recovered to use their plasma power. Yakov Josephy heads the Thank You Hashem Nation, which shares their message of gratitude with unique apparel. He came along with music sensation Yosef Joey Newcomb, a Kew Gardens Hills native. Newcomb delivered a moving statement that Jewish people must grasp at the opportunity to thank Hashem for being placed in a situation where we can perform acts of chesed like the kindness of giving others our plasma to survive the dreaded virus. International musical superstar Benny Friedman shared these views, adding, “Saving a life is the biggest chesed. We must pray that we will be the ones Hashem chooses to help protect others. This mitzvah is as much easy as it is vital, and it has minimal discomfort. As we change the world and spread the little lights within our midst, we inevitably bring Mashiach closer.” Friedman concluded, “We build the world with each genuine act of chesed, and saving a life is an amazing privilege that most do not get to achieve during their lifetimes.”

Newcomb recently released a music video entitled Chesed, showcasing the volunteerism of the many frontline life-saving organizations that have helped our communities attack COVID-19 while emulating the ways of our Creator. Although the track was not specifically designed for our current outbreak, it is most apropos. Newcomb adds, “The world was created with one key ingredient: chesed. “Olam chesed yibaneh.”

Those who have recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their plasma that can attack the virus living in others. Many had filled out a registration form on COVID Plasma Initiative’s website and secured themselves a coveted space for the drive. A simple blood draw was conducted to see if the patient has a high enough antibody level present in his or her blood, allowing one to become a potential plasma donor. Results indicating the level of immunity to the virus become available in two to three days. Doctors do not know the length of immunity or if it will prevent a reinfection, but they are confident that these patients have an added layer of protection from the virus and of its transfer. The program takes care of all necessary logistics.

The COVID Plasma Initiative maintains the fastest-growing HIPAA-compliant database of recovered COVID-19 patients in the world and assists hospitals with enrolling in the Mayo Clinic’s expanded access program for convalescent COVID-19 plasma. With the widest network of medical affiliations in the USA for plasma donations, the program aids blood banks with screening and scheduling potential donors to maximize available plasmapheresis machines.

The virus certainly did not discriminate in our community, as testers were seen from all sects. Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim-affiliated kollel men and women who had recovered turned up to do their part. Leah Hoenig was one such community member, who was delighted to potentially give to those in need with her blood plasma.

Shani Itzkowitz, whose family are members of the Beis Medrash of Kew Gardens Hills, was encouraged to “partake in this remarkable mitzvah with just a few simple actions.” Fresh Meadows residents Allon Abramov, a student of Ohel Torah in Lakewood, and his mother Lana, joined. “If I am a resource who can help our community, I am proud to contribute,” voiced Allon. Their family friend Jeffery Natanov came, as well, moved by a recent tragedy. “My mother’s cousin Merrick Aminov of KGH was just buried on his 53rd birthday as a result of the virus, and I was inspired to make a difference,” explained Jeffery.

At the antibody testing drive through Mount Sinai, those with test results of 160 or higher are eligible to schedule an appointment to donate plasma. In order to be tested, one needs to be 18 years old, but does not need to have had a previous positive result for the virus; rather, he or she must have had actual symptoms, namely fever over 99° F, a severe cough or shortness of breath, and now be completely symptom-free for two to three weeks. A positive antibody test does not necessarily indicate that one is immune to the virus or that he is no longer infectious or susceptible to a reinfection, despite being symptom-free. A patient then awaits a call from a plasma collection center, lab, or blood bank to make these arrangements. One should only test with the explicit intention to donate blood and remember that the only purpose of undergoing an antibody test is to see if one’s blood can be used to help others falling victim to the contagion. Those who meet these requirements should consider donating their blood plasma for plasma-derived therapy and save the lives of up to three others.

Yonatan Laster, a spirited member of the Kew Gardens Hills community, attends both Kehilas Torah Temimah and Khal Nachlas Yitzchok outside of the pandemic. With obvious excitement, Yonatan detailed the opportunity before us. “It is a huge kiddush Hashem for the Orthodox Jewish community to rally together and literally save lives! It is vital for the Queens community-at-large to see the local Jewish contingents doing their part on such a magnitude.” Ahron and Moriah Nagelberg often attend Congregation Chasam Sofer and Bais Yosef D’Ulem, both in Kew Gardens Hills. They realized that with so many dedicated healthcare workers on the frontlines from the frum community and beyond, everyday individuals also must make a difference. The couple enthusiastically seized their chance to make an impact and show the world how Orthodox Jews represent themselves.

If you have recovered from COVID-19, call 828-4-PLASMA or log onto  to register.

 By Shabsie Saphirstein