COVID-19 survivor Darren most prolific plasma donor in the UK

After fighting for his life having been placed on a ventilator in intensive care after contracting coronavirus last March, former Hutton Cranswick resident Darren Buttrick is now helping others battling the deadly virus by donating his plasma. 

The former Driffield School student donated his blood plasma for the 21st time last week making him the longest serving and most prolific active donor in the UK – and he has vowed to continue as long as his antibodies remain high. 

Plasma is being used in clinical trials to determine whether the antibody-rich substance found in people who have had coronavirus – known as convalescent plasma – could be an effective treatment for COVID-19. 

Darren, 49, now living in Staffordshire, contracted coronavirus in March and became so ill that doctors told him to call his family to say goodbye.  

The father-of-three was put into a coma on a ventilator – but thanks to the care of the NHS, who he describes as his “angels” – he miraculously pulled through. 

He told the Wolds Weekly that if his actions can help save one life or prevent others from going through what he endured, he would be doing his bit to give back to those who saved his life. 

“I first began to feel unwell following a work trip to London last March,” he said. 

“By Saturday 14th March, my temperature had soared to just over 40 and my breathing was very laboured, my wife called 999 and I went to New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton. 

“At the time I was not a confirmed case. I was kept in overnight on oxygen and tested for COVID-19. I was sent home the next day advising I should self-isolate. 

“The following Tuesday, I received the call from NHS Public Health to confirm I had COVID-19.  

“I remember watching the news that day where the number of cases reported in the UK stood at 2,000 and I thought to myself how have I been so unlucky to catch this at all and so soon. 

“Between Monday 16th March and Thursday 19th March, my temperature was still high – over 40 – and my breathing was getting worse.  

“By 7pm on that Thursday, I knew I was very bad as I could not open my eyes, my breathing was more of a panting state and I felt like I was being strangled and so I tried to call 111 myself. 

“One of my daughters overheard me and brought my wife. After three to four calls over 12 hours, they sent out an ambulance and I went back to hospital. 

“I was taken to a small sterile room where medical staff in full PPE checked me over.  

“I was laying on the hospital bed upset, frightened and fearing I would not be allowed home.  

“The doctor carried out a blood gas test and told me it was so bad that I would need to go to the intensive care unit (ICU), be put in an induced coma and ventilated.  

“I could hardly speak but I told her I didn’t want that.  

“I had no underlying health issues, I never take a tablet for anything, I was never ill or at the doctors and yet I was left literally fighting for my life.” 

Darren was told that his body was beginning to shut down and he was given 15 minutes to make the “worst” phone calls he has ever had to make in his life – to tell his family what was about to happen.  

He said: “The doctor told me that it could go either way and it was 50/50 because they didn’t know what they were dealing with.  

“I was told to prepare myself and my loved ones that – this could be my last call. 

“I cried, I sobbed and I begged. I could not believe it was this bad and I was facing the unknown – possibly even death.  

“The doctor reassured me and said they would do everything possible to save me and I had age and my previous good health in my favour.  

“I called my wife, parents, brothers, sister, some friends and work colleagues. They were the worst calls I have ever had to make.  

“My wife broke down and surely had not expected this call. My parents were crying and in disbelief – they said they did not want to let me go before them.  

 “One of my daughters had no idea about the severity of my illness and told me: ‘Dad, please have a nice sleep and come back home soon’. 

“My wife clearly told them I had been put to sleep to help me get better. That message still breaks my heart today when I read it. 

“As I was put in an induced coma one of the NHS workers, Kate, held my hand and stroked my arm. 

“She was so comforting and could see the distress I was in. But this was now out of my hands. I thought to myself: this could be it and I may never wake up.” 

After around five days in ICU, Darren began to show signs of improvement. As the doctors tried to take him off sedation, he had a bad reaction and he had to be re-ventilated before being woken up gradually. 

Although his memory of his time in hospital is patchy, his recollection of his surroundings when he woke up in ICU remains vivid. 

“As I looked around, I saw lots of nurses and doctors fully gowned, head-to-toe in PPE and at least 10 other patients were around me laying on their backs in a coma, on ventilators, with machines bleeping continually,” Darren added. 

“A wonderful nurse called Dawn was sat next to me, holding my hand and told me not to worry – that I was off the ventilator and on oxygen and was through the worst.  

“She even let me FaceTime my wife from her personal phone and it was so emotional.  

“I later found out that while I was in the coma, a nurse called Sergio would sit with me and tell me about how my wife had called and passed on her love and to keep fighting.  

“He said it gave him comfort when I gripped his hand when he relayed messages of love and fight from my loved ones. 

“The NHS workers at New Cross Hospital are my saviours, my angels, and I am so thankful for what they did for me and my family.” 

Darren, who grew up in Hutton Cranswick with his parents Brian and Freda, brothers Wayne and Mark and sister Karan, said the care he received from the NHS made his decision to give something back by donating plasma a “no-brainer”. 

“At the end of April, I received a call from the NHS asking if I would be willing to take part in plasma donations,” he continued.  

“They explained how I would be helping them and others with this trial. It was a no-brainer for me – I had been saved and now wanted to give back.  

“I went to the NHS Blood and Transplant Building in Birmingham and it was a good experience and didn’t hurt.  

“It was just like giving blood and the blood donation staff were and always have been amazing.” 

Darren said he feels very proud to be able to give back and help others during these difficult times. 

“Everyone is different and has different levels of antibodies which they keep for differing periods of time,” he explained. 

“My antibodies are still at a very high level, which is quite unusual nearly 10 months on. 

“Last week, I donated for the 21st time and was told that I am both the longest serving UK plasma donor in the fight against COVID-19, as well as the person who has donated the most times in the UK. 

“Each donation can give two coronavirus patients much-needed antibodies to help their body fight off the disease, so it’s heart-warming to think I could have helped people fight off COVID-19 without the need for the evasive lifesaving treatment I needed. 

“If my actions help save one more life or prevent others going through what I did, then I am doing my bit to give back for those that loved, cared and saved me on that very dark day back in March.” 

Darren said he feels lucky to have overcome COVID-19 with very little long term physical problems – an x-ray of his lungs three months ago was clear – and he puts it down to the active lifestyle he led. 

“When I was young, I was very sporty and used to run at Costello Stadium in Hull and take part in sports and cross country running at Hutton Cranswick and Driffield School,” he said. 

“I think my fitness levels helped with my recovery. 

“Donating the plasma and helping to raise awareness of the impact of COVID has also helped as it has given me a purpose and I feel I am giving something back.” 

With rapidly rising infection rates and the immense pressure on the NHS, Darren stressed it was more important than ever to follow the rules and stay safe. 

He added: “My story is not here to frighten people, but to thank the NHS, give people hope, comfort and support and show the positives that come out of this.  

“I’d still encourage everyone to stay safe and well and observe all of the guidelines around “hands, face, space” and in particular wearing a face mask, wash your hands as often as you can and observe social distancing.  

“I know it’s a tough time for us all, but I am proof the virus takes no prisoners and it almost took me. Don’t think because you are young you can’t get this illness. It will attack anyone. 

“I have seen my parents only once in 12 months which doesn’t feel right, but it is so important to keep them safe. 

“The NHS saved my life – I know what they did for me. I would urge everyone to do what they can to help – either by donating plasma, blood or platelets, or simply by sticking to the guidelines to stop the spread. 

“Love, care, medicine and the amazing work of those doctors and nurses at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton will always have a place in my heart.  

“Don’t let this virus take you, your family, friends and loved ones and let’s all play our part to protect ourselves and each other until the vaccine is fully rolled out.” 

*There was confusion recently about the use of blood plasma in the fight against coronavirus after trials were temporarily suspended  for one week after interim results from the RECOVERY and REMAP-CAP trials showed no overall benefit for people in hospital care.  

Both trials are still analysing whether plasma could benefit subgroups of patients, such as people with low natural antibody levels.  

International trials are also testing if plasma helps people when it is used much earlier in the disease, before people get to hospital.  

Early use could help some of the most vulnerable people, such as the elderly or those with weak immune systems.  

There is already some trial evidence showing this could work. A similar UK trial is being discussed. 

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Darren told the Wolds Weekly: “I gave my 20th donation on Thursday 14th January with television cameras present because it was my 20th donation and then, the following afternoon, the NHS called me to say they were pausing all plasma donations as trial results were inconclusive. 

“I was disappointed at first as I am sure many other people would have been.  

“But last Wednesday I was told the trails were back on and last week I gave my 21st donation. 

“They are now going to use plasma in early onset of COVID to aid a better recovery.  

“I am sure I would have missed not donating. It’s been a big part of my life since April and I have been donating weekly since October, which gives me something to look forward to and gives me a sense of doing something positive in life.  

“My concern is that there is a lot of confusion now about plasma donations and ironically I have been contacted to ask if I will be involved in a video to help spread the message that plasma is open again.” 

Nurse Sergio in full PPE who cared for Darren whilst in a coma.

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