How plasma transfusions may heal COVID-19 patients

As Lona Towsley lay in the ICU at University Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, battling COVID-19, the two-time cancer survivor felt like giving up. “I was trying to fight for my husband and my kids,” she said. “But in my mind, it was getting way too hard.  I didn’t think I’d see my husband again. I was fighting to breathe. Stuff started coming up out of my lungs. I was just slowly strangling, was what it felt like.”

Correspondent Allison Aubrey, of National Public Radio, asked, “You really thought this was the end?”

“I honestly did.”

With Towsley’s consent, her doctors administered an experimental treatment: a transfusion of plasma donated by someone who had just recently recovered from coronavirus.

“I believe that that’s what saved my life,” Towsley said. 

Within a few days, Towsley went from being intubated on a ventilator to breathing on her own and feeling better. 

“Were you surprised?” Aubrey asked. 

“I was very surprised. I was thrilled. I had hope again,” she replied. 

Convalescent plasma – using a transfusion of blood with antibodies donated by recovered patients – has already shown promising results as a treatment for coronavirus.  CBS NEWS

More than 6,000 COVID patients have now received convalescent plasma. It’s not clear yet how much it may help. But it’s a technique that goes way back, and Dr. Arturo Casadevall, of Johns Hopkins University, stepped up to resurrect it 

The procedure, he said, has been around for 120 years. “It was the subject of the first Nobel Prize,” he said. 

That’s when doctors realized that virus-fighting antibodies borrowed from recovered patients may help prevent, or cure, disease.  “I knew that there was an enormous body of experience with the use of convalescent plasma,” Dr. Casadevall said. But much of this was lost to history. So, on February 27, he penned an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal, writing about a doctor at a boys’ boarding school in Pennsylvania back in 1934, who treated a boy with a serious case of measles.

“So, what the doctor did was, he went to the kid who recovered, he took some of his blood, and they gave small amounts to the other children,” said Casadevall. “And then they waited. And the epidemic that was supposed to have happened didn’t happen.”

His article was published just as the first coronavirus deaths in the U.S. were reported.

And at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, Dr. Nicole Bouvier would soon be on the frontlines treating lots of patients. 

“Yeah, I mean it’s incredibly frustrating,” she told Aubrey. “It’s hard for the frontline doctors, the nurses. These are all people who are used to fixing things.”

But at the time there was not a single approved treatment. So, behind the scenes, Dr. Casadevall scrambled to build a coalition of doctors. The first was Michael Joyner, of the Mayo Clinic; then, William Hartman of the University of Wisconsin; James Musser of Houston Methodist Hospital; Nicole Bouvier of Mt. Sinai; and Andreas Klein of Tufts Medical Center.

Dr. Joyner led the charge: “There was a crisis. So, people get into action mode when there’s a crisis.”

He worked with the FDA to expand access to plasma and get more hospitals on board. “We just got up every day and kept pushing. We just kept pushing, pushing, pushing,” Dr. Joyner said.

Within weeks patients were being treated with convalescent plasma. Dr. Klein said what could have taken months or years happened quickly: “I think that’s unprecedented. And is really inspiring.”

Dr. Bouvier said, “It’s unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never been part of anything like this.”

Dr. Musser’s team at Houston Methodist was among the first to treat COVID patients with plasma: “I view this as very much like an old-fashioned barnraising. You know, we’ll aggregate and we’ll get this done.” 

These doctors said convalescent plasma may be just a stop-gap measure until more treatments and a vaccine come along. Dr. Joyner said, “I think it’ll be part of a cocktail. And hopefully then this paves the way for a vaccine. This was really the first kind of biological shot on a goal, and the first shot on goal, and the first best biological shot on goal.”

And this feels good to Dr. Hartman, who treated patient Lona Towsley…

Aubrey asked, “What do you think you’ll tell your children or grandchildren about this extraordinary moment?”

Dr. Hartman replied, “I’ll tell them the story of a huge movement all across the country. That in six weeks’ time, 2,000 hospitals have come together with the unifying purpose of trying to make people better. And in the end, it’s the community that’s saving the community.”  

Meanwhile, Towsley said she will donate her blood as soon as she’s completely recovered: “If I can save just one person from going through what I went through, I’d do it in a minute.” 

Aubrey asked, “If you could meet the person who donated their plasma that was transfused into your body, what would you say to them?”

“Oh, thank you so much for giving me another chance at life!” Towsley said.

Story produced by Kay Lim. Editor: Remington Korper.

Anne Keating

Senior Advisor

Anne Keating, former Senior Vice President of Public Relations for Bloomingdale’s, was responsible for the initiation, creation and direction of Bloomingdale’s press efforts, special events and philanthropic endeavors for all stores nationwide up until August 2017. She was also the company’s official spokesperson.  In October 2017, Anne transitioned into a consultant to Bloomingdale’s CEO for philanthropy and other projects, in addition to establishing her own private consultancy.


Keating is a member of the Board of Trustees for the American Associates of the Old Vic and HELP USA/Mentoring USA. She previously served on the board of NYC & Company and continues on the Director’s Council of the Children’s Museum of the Arts. She also serves as an advisor to the Child Mind Institute and is a member of the Dream Team for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centers.


Due to her leadership in steering the public relations and philanthropic efforts for Bloomingdale’s and her personal mission to give back to her community, New York Women in Communications, Inc. (NYWICI) proudly named Keating as a recipient of the 2010 Matrix Award.  She has also been recognized for her guidance, commitment and philanthropic work by Upward Inc., the New York Center for Children, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the Children’s Museum of the Arts, as well as the Girls Scouts of Greater New York.


In addition, Help USA awarded Keating the HELP HERO award for her years of leadership in the effort to combat domestic violence and homelessness. The Anne Keating Scholarship Fund was established in her honor in 2008 to grant young mothers the funds to pursue educational opportunities.


Prior to joining Bloomingdale’s in 1995 as Vice President of Public Relations, Keating was the Vice President of Public Relations, Special Events, and Corporate Services at FAO Schwarz. She also served as the Director of Bridal and Gift Services at Bloomingdale’s earlier in her career. She began her retail career at Tiffany & Co.  Keating holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art and Education from the College of Saint Elizabeth in New Jersey.

Michael Brekka

Web and Graphic Designer

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Emma Stern

Operations Manager

Emma is currently an Assistant at Second Alpha Partners and manages the implementation of executive administration, business, and personal support to the CEOs and CFO. She has previously held internships in the wealth management, accounting, and event planning industries. She has also volunteered in the special needs and health education spaces. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Economics from UCLA. 

James Sanger

Senior Advisor

James Sanger is a Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Second Alpha Partners, a value-oriented private equity firm focused on secondary and secondary-linked direct investments in mature venture-stage, growth-equity and middle-market companies showing prospects for superior future growth.  He is an author and frequent speaker on topics related to advanced technologies, business innovation and the evolution of venture capital investing. Jim has spent more than twenty years as a venture capitalist, secondary investor, corporate advisor and technology executive. He currently serves as a board member of and TeraGo Networks (TSX:TGO). Previously, Jim served as a board observer of EverQuote (NASDAQ: EVER), as a board member and Chairman of Sixth Sense Media (acquired by Evolving Systems) and as a board member of AVST (acquired by StoneCalibre).

Prior to Second Alpha, Jim was a General Partner at ABS Ventures, where he focused on investments that combined elements of traditional venture investing with secondary share purchases in growth companies. At ABS, Jim’s investments included Everbridge (NASDAQ: EVBG), Qualys (NASDAQ: QLYS), Gomez (acquired by Compuware), Inxight Software (acquired by Business Objects/SAP), AlphaBlox (acquired by IBM (NYSE: IBM)), Overtone (acquired by KANA) and Intralinks (acquired in a syndicated buyout led by Rho Partners). Jim was also a senior member of the ABS team that structured the secondary purchases of several portfolios of venture assets from Deutsche Bank.

Sara Roberts

Senior Advisor

Sara Roberts McCarley is a non-profit professional with experience in global, national and local organizations.  With over 25 years of experience in this sector, she has worked in healthcare philanthropy, international program development and a myriad of state/local organizations with a variety of missions and focus areas. 
Currently, Sara serves as the founder and chairman of the Randy Roberts Foundation that works to cultivate Florida’s future leaders through civic engagement and public service. Since 2009, the Randy Roberts Foundation has pledged $331,000 in undergraduate scholarships and impacted more than 200 high school students through leadership programming. Alumni of the organization are now doctors, lawyers, teachers, national security staff, military leaders, all making a difference in their respective communities. The Randy Roberts Foundation is currently in partnership with and housed at Florida Southern College where Sara graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication. 

Sara was elected as a Lakeland City Commissioner in Lakeland, Florida, in January 2019.  She continues to support many organizations as an active board member including, Lakeland Vision Education Chair, Lakeland Area Mass Transit and Citrus Connection Vice Chair, Harrison School for the Performing Arts Parent Association President, Polk County Transportation Planning Organization member, and Bonnet Springs Park Arts and Culture Co-Chair.

Richard Brekka


Richard Brekka is a Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Second Alpha Partners, a value-oriented private equity firm focused on secondary and secondary-linked direct investments in mature venture-stage, growth-equity and middle-market companies showing prospects for superior future growth. He is a passionate spokesman for the importance of secondary investing to the overall health of the innovation economy. For more than twenty years, Richard has invested in growth-oriented tech companies – particularly software-as-a-service, mobile content, communication services and Internet opportunities.

He currently serves as a board member of TeraGo Networks (TSX: TGO) and as a board observer of Payfone. Previously, Richard served on the boards of Appia Communications (acquired by CallTower), AVST (acquired by StoneCalibre), TouchCommerce (acquired by Nuance Communications (NASDAQ:NUAN)), Sixth Sense Media (acquired by Evolving Systems), the Guild (acquired by Digital Fuel Capital) and SeaPass (acquired by Internet Capital Group).

Prior to founding Second Alpha, Richard was President, Managing Partner and founder of Dolphin Equity Partners, a New York-based venture firm. Between 1998 and 2010, Dolphin raised two funds and invested in nearly three dozen portfolio companies. At Dolphin, Richard was Chairman of the Board of Gomez (acquired by Compuware – the acquisition represented one of the top ten largest exits in the venture industry during 2009), and was a board member of Mobile Armor (acquired by Trend Micro), Enpocket (acquired by Nokia), Seapass (acquired by Internet Capital Group), AVST (acquired by StoneCalibre), SixthSense Media (acquired by Evolving Systems) and Overtone (acquired by KANA).

Before Dolphin, Richard was a Managing Director in the private equity investment group at CIBC and President of CIBC’s U.S. private equity subsidiaries. While at CIBC, he was on the board of ten communications companies, including Telesystems International Wireless (acquired by Vodaphone), Orion Network Systems (acquired by Loral), and Transit Communications (acquired by DialPage). Prior to CIBC, he was with Chase Capital and led the Firm’s investments in Nextel (NASD: NXTL) and DisCom Communications (acquired by Nextel).

Richard holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California and an MBA from the University of Chicago.

Marisol Lugo Brekka


Marisol Lugo Brekka is a Cuban American and the co-founder of the Brekka Group, LLC. The Brekka Group is a boutique investment firm that makes long term investments in growing companies in diverse sectors and markets. Its portfolio consists of companies in the financial services, technology, e-commerce, real estate, and consumer product sectors.

Marisol began her career in 1994 with Bank of America’s management training program.  Marisol specialized in mergers and acquisitions within the manufacturing and distribution industries. Her portfolio consisted of several Fortune 500 companies mostly in the Mid-Atlantic and Mid- West regions. She has been in the financial services industry for 28 years. Her passion is working with entrepreneurs helping to create financial and strategic solutions to growing companies.

Marisol has always been a strong advocate for non-profits dedicated to making a difference in the lives of the underprivileged and Latino communities. She is co-founder of which is a not-for-profit she help start as a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic that facilitated the donation of COVID-19 convalescent plasma to save lives. assisted in the collection of over 600,000 units of convalescent plasma during the pandemic. It has been nationally recognized by the Fight Is In Us Coalition and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as one of the US leading organizations that helped create a national awareness campaign for plasma collection.  Marisol has previously also served on the board for the Tampa Bay YMCA and Columbus Children’s Hospital Development Board. 

Marisol was raised in Perth Amboy, New Jersey and learned to speak English at the age of five. She received a degree in Finance from Florida Southern College and MBA from the University of Tampa. She is member of the Harvard Business School 2021 Women on Boards Program.   Marisol resides in New York City with her husband and two children.