Alice Drennon advocates for plasma donations while living with CVID

My Story as a CVID Patient

Beginning in 2008, Alice Drennon was experiencing a multitude of severe infections—ear infections, sinus infections, pneumonia, bronchitis, upper respiratory infections, etc.—which caused frequent trips to the emergency room and hospitalization. At the time, Alice was working for a law firm in Houston, TX, and had to take 122 sick days. After consulting her physician, they referred her to an immunologist. "My life was about to change forever," says Alice. 

Alice was diagnosed with Common Variable Immune Deficiency (CVID), a type of primary immunodeficiency (PI) that affects roughly 1 in 250,000 individuals. There is no cure for primary immunodeficiencies, only treatment. In this case, Alice's immunologist recommended the best course of action would immunoglobulin (Ig) replacement therapy. Ig refers to the liquid plasma component of blood that contains immunoglobulins or antibodies. These antibodies have the important role in the immune system of neutralizing bacteria and viruses, and enhancing the phagocytosis and destruction of bacteria, certain viruses, and other pathogens.

It is important to understand that the Ig given to people with PI partly replaces what the body should be making, but it does not stimulate the individual’s own immune system to make more Ig. Since Ig only replaces the missing end product but does not correct the person’s defect in antibody production, Ig replacement therapy is usually necessary for the individual’s lifetime. It's a temporary solution. Alice receives her Ig replacement therapy subcutaneously (subcutaneous immunoglobulin replacement therapy is also known as SCIg) every 28 days at home with the help of a nurse. Each infusion lasts about 4-5 hours. 

Realizing that not many people knew what CVID was and not knowing anyone else with the diagnosis, Alice took matters into her own hands. "I decided to be my own advocate," she says. She became involved in the Immune Deficiency Foundation's (IDF) Get Connected Group in Houston, TX. These meetings bring together members of the PI community to discuss their diagnosis, build connections, and sometimes hear from medical professionals. At the meetings, Alice learned that patients often visited plasma centers to thank donors and raise awareness for PI and the need for regular plasma donation. 

"It's been almost five years since I began visiting multiple plasma centers in Texas," she says, the furthest one being 365 miles away. "The experience is humbling, to say the least. I can speak with the staff and donors, encouraging them to be kind to those who walk through the door, as we all have life challenges. These donors give the gift of life, which is priceless. They give, I live!" 

In addition to her usual volunteer work for IDF, she volunteered to serve as a Spanish-language interpreter for interviews with Mexican donors so that they could tell their stories for the Plasma Hero website and highlight the importance of plasma donation. Alice is also featured in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Giving=Living Campaign to promote both blood and plasma donation.

"You can’t imagine how honored and privileged I am, says Alice. "I share my story with the purpose of them learning more about real patients. I thank each donor for their generosity and courage because their selfless act saves lives and one of them is standing in front of them—what an impact!"

This week, Alice is receiving the Plasma Hero Award at the IDF 2022 Primary Immunodeficiency Conference for her tireless efforts as an ambassador for plasma donation. We are thrilled to be able to feature Alice and all she's helped accomplish. To see Alice receive this award—and to learn more about primary immunodeficiencies—register for the IDF 2022 PI Conference today!

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