Fire Marshal plasma donation

After Citrus County Fire Marshal Paul Gillam learned he had COVID-19 antibodies, he began donating his plasma to help treat critically ill patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19.

He is shown here at LifeSouth Community Blood Center in Inverness with Laura Bailey, a LifeSouth phlebotomist, preparing Gillam for the plasma donation process.

As Citrus County Fire Marshal, it’s Paul Gillam’s job to help save lives from fire dangers.

Now, as someone who has recovered from COVID-19, he’s helping to save lives by donating his blood plasma.

Currently, convalescent plasma is being used to treat critically ill patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19.

“The thing is, I didn’t even know I had COVID, although I suspected it,” Gillam said from LifeSouth Community Blood Center in Inverness, where he was donating his plasma. “I found out for sure after I donated blood and learned I was positive for the COVID antibodies.”

He said he had just started regularly donating blood in March after his 10-year-old grandson asked about the bloodmobiles he had seen around the county.

“I told him I would donate blood and take him with me to see it,” Gillam said. “Then the second time I donated blood they had started doing the antibody testing and I showed positive, so here I am donating plasma.”

As he relaxed in the LifeSouth chair, the 61-year-old said he recalled taking his grandsons on a fishing vacation in March and not feeling well for two days with muscle aches, but that was all.

He also recalled one of his grandchildren having a fever also around that time, but he never had a fever himself, nor any other symptom.

“After the last time I donated blood, I was actually hoping I would be positive for antibodies so I could donate my plasma to help people in the hospital who are suffering with this,” he said.

Sheila Zachow, LifeSouth Community Blood Center regional manager, said she’s seen an increase in blood donations at their “brick and mortar” sites since the pandemic started.

“We’re still rolling our bus out, too, with social distancing protocols," Zachow explained.

She added that nearly every person who tests positive for COVID-19 antibodies returns to donate plasma.

“We’ve had a lot of people come in specifically because they want to help save lives,” she said, adding that blood is always in need, especially O-negative.

“Our hospitals are in need, especially for platelet donations,” she said. “Cancer has not taken a vacation during COVID.”

Zachow said the regular blood donation process takes about 30 minutes and a plasma donation takes about 45 minutes.

“I’m going back to work after I’m done here,” Gillam said Friday. “Then on Monday, I’ll be back (walking) on my treadmill.”

For more information about donating blood, platelets or plasma, go online at lifesouth.org or call 352-527-3061.

Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.