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South Texans donate plasma to defend against anthrax

Wendy Rigby, KENS 5 Eyewitness News

The threat of terrorism became clear in the fall of 2001. Just after the Sept. 11 attacks, five people were killed in anthrax attacks.
Now, South Texans are taking part in a donation process to save lives in the event of another anthrax scare.

At Nabi Pharmaceuticals in downtown San Antonio, donors roll up their sleeves to give plasma, the liquid component of blood.

As part of a federal program called Project Bioshield, San Antonians who have been vaccinated for anthrax can donate their plasma to a national stockpile.

Dr. Ronald Brown says it's an important part of America's plan to be prepared.

"September 11th was a real wake-up call, and it made us realize that we don't have sufficient stockpiles of certain types of medications," Brown said.

Volunteers for the project are given the anthrax vaccine before donating plasma twice a week for a month.

A machine is used as a centrifuge to separate the blood components. The red blood cells are returned to the donor.

The plasma is separated and sent off to make an anthrax immune globulin or a medication that would be given to people who inhale anthrax or who are at risk from the deadly toxins released in their bodies.

Robin Weyrich, a plasma donor, says it's an easy way to help.

"Somewhere down the line somebody's going to ... what I'm doing is going to help somebody else. And at my age, you know, there's not a whole lot I can do for a lot of people, but this I can do," Weyrich said.

The Department of Health and Human Services has contracted to collect 10,000 doses of the anthrax immune globulin, which can't be created in a lab and can only come from people.

"As a physician, personally, I can say that you know, probably the greatest thing we could do is do something to prevent somebody from dying. And this medication is truly is going to save their life," Brown said.

Plasma donors involved in the anthrax project are paid for their time and trouble. To find out more about Project Bioshield, go online and visit www.cangeneplasma.com.

If you would like to become a donor, call (210) 224-1749 or stop by Nabi Pharmaceuticals at 711 Broadway.