April is Primary Immune Deficiency Awareness month. Primary Immune Deficiency Diseases are genetic disorders that cause some part of the immune system to function incorrectly, leaving people with these conditions extremely susceptible to illness. I am one of approximately 250,000 Americans diagnosed with one of these disorders.
PIDDs are life threatening when left untreated. For most people with the disease, a simple cold can turn into a severe sinus infection or pneumonia. The longer a person lives without being diagnosed, the greater the chances that the individual will die or suffer severe medical problems. People who live long enough to be diagnosed are put on a treatment called Immune Globulin therapy (IgG), which I have been receiving since I was three years old.
IgG is made out of human plasma, a blood component separated from the red and white blood cells. The body fights off diseases using many of the proteins found in plasma and, by taking regular injections of medications derived from plasma, those with the disorder are able to fight off diseases. Without this medicine, we would be almost constantly sick. My doctors determined I had an immune deficiency after I had contracted pneumonia three separate times by age three and had monthly sinus infections that I couldn’t get rid of without antibiotics and steroids.
Immune deficients aren’t the only people who benefit from plasma. The medications are also used to treat hemophilia, pediatric HIV, hepatitis, genetic lung disorders and, occasionally, animal bites. Even though so many different diseases are treated with plasma, people do not donate as much as they could. When plasma collection centers can’t collect enough, it causes extreme shortages of the medications, and people who have any of the previously mentioned conditions are unable to get the medicine they need to lead a normal life. During the last plasma shortage in the late 1990s, people I know were unable to get their IgG for extended periods of time and started to get sick frequently. I still received my medication throughout the entire shortage because I was given priority as a minor, but many others weren’t as lucky.
In recognition of Primary Immune Deficiency Awareness month, I would like to ask everyone to consider donating plasma. The nearest donation center is in Ypsilanti, but I encourage students to find donation centers in their hometowns. To find the donation center closest to you, go to www.donatingplasma.org. The website also gives additional information on the uses of plasma and the donation process.
I strongly encourage all of you to donate. You may be saving someone’s life, and you could grant a healthy, normal lifestyle to someone who wouldn’t have one otherwise. Plasma is an enormous gift that recipients are extremely thankful for. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to all of the current plasma donors, and I hope many of you consider donating in the future.