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COVID-surviving doctor denied chance to donate plasma because he's gay

Treating COVID-19 with plasma therapy
Treating COVID-19 with plasma therapy 13:26

Dr. Dillon Barron is a frontline emergency room doctor on Chicago's North Side. He's also a recovered COVID-19 patient. But when he tried to donate his plasma to help save others, he was flat-out denied the chance because he's gay, he says.

Barron and his partner sat down with CBS Chicago.

Blood donation guidelines have been the center of controversy for years. But in the age of COVID-19, blood and plasma donations are crucial.

Barron and his partner, and their congresswoman, are hoping it will be enough for change.

Barron cares night and day for COVID-19 patients.

"We saw lots of death, lots of sad stories, lots of young people," he said.

Both he and his partner, Eric Seelbach, contracted COVID-19 themselves. It's been a long, exhausting road, and they were excited to donate their antibody rich plasma.

"I really felt passionate about doing something; wanting to be in control and feel like I was helping people," Barron said.

But according to Food and Drug Administration blood donation guidelines, there was zero chance – because men who have sex with men can only donate if they haven't been sexually active for three months. That applies whether they're in committed relationships or practicing safe sex.

"We're sitting on something that could be saving lives," Barron said.

One study found that blood banks could be missing out on hundreds of thousands of pints of blood due to that policy.

"Those won't be available because of bigotry or laziness or people who don't believe in science," said Seelbach.

So is the policy backed by science? We asked an HIV expert.

"Short answer is there is no science currently to support that," said Dr. Anu Hazra, an infectious disease physician with the University of Chicago and staff physician at the Howard Brown Health Center.

Hazra said the guidelines, which went from a lifetime ban to a 12-month ban to a 3-month ban, are based on 1983 regulations surrounding the HIV epidemic.

But testing and screening have improved dramatically since then.

Instead, Hazra advocates for "individual risk assessments for every donor, regardless of whether they are gay or straight."

And that's exactly what U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) thinks. It's part of House Resolution 989, introduced earlier this month.

"There is no reason behind it that's based on science," Schakowsky said.

CBS Chicago introduced Schakowsky to Barron and Seelnach. And they're all hopeing for some change.

"I didn't realize that here were really awesome people in our corner who were willing to work on this," Barron said.

"We really need to make progress, and what you are advocating is to help," Schakowsky said.

The House measure was referred to committee.

Schakowsky is hoping blood shortages caused by the pandemic will push legislators to pass it.

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