This local family’s COVID-19 journey led to them helping others through plasma donations

KPRC 2 reporter Rose Ann Aragon talked to a couple who donated plasma to help people with coronavirus.
KPRC 2 reporter Rose Ann Aragon talked to a couple who donated plasma to help people with coronavirus.

Sharlene and Lawrence Barris have always loved helping people. That is what led the couple to Africa to help underprivileged school children in need.

Upon returning in March, they self-quarantined for precaution. At first, they felt great but that quickly changed.

Lawrence Barris told KPRC 2 reporter Rose-Ann Aragon he started to experience “sweats, shivers ... a lot of weakness,” and shortly after his symptoms started, Sharlene Barris also became ill.

Despite being with her husband during his recovery, Sharlene’s symptoms were much milder, and after a week, they both recovered and were happy to see their daughter, Jodi Sanchez, and grandchildren again.

After their recovery, the couple said they were contacted by Houston Methodist about an opportunity to donate plasma to help future recovery. Lawrence and Sharlene Barris jumped at the chance to help.

"I think [Methodist] said for every blood donation you gave you could help 3 patients," Sharlene Barris said.

The couple were eager at a chance to help others going through coronavirus in any way they could.

"Whomever we can help is what we want to do and that was the goal and it didn't matter who it was!" Sharlene Barris.

Because of Lawrence Barris’ antibody count, he qualified to donate and over the course of weeks, he donated plasma six times. What they didn’t know, was that the donated plasma was only going to the Houston Methodists’ strict 300-patient trial.

The news of Lawrence Barris’ donation spread, and the family felt helpless when people started reaching out, each with their own story, asking for the life-saving plasma.

"They've capped the number of people that can get the plasma," Sharlene Barris explained.

Disappointed, the Barris family took to social media.

Sanchez set up a meeting with Houston Methodist Friday asking about the study and what more could be done to help get her father’s plasma to more people in need. During that meeting, the Houston Methodist told them the FDA had to approve expanding the trial to more people, Sanchez said.

"Why are we not continuing this with compassionate use, and why is the FDA holding this up? Four days have gone by," Sanchez said.

But, their hands were tied.

“I’m just a mom,” Sharlene Barris said in tears. “I’m a mom who gets a call from another mom—and it’s heartbreaking.”

However, during an interview with Aragon Friday afternoon, Houston Methodist informed KPRC 2 that the FDA had approved the expansion of the trial.

Aragon broke the news to the family during the interview.

“I can see that you all are so passionate about this,” Aragon said. “I just got a message from Methodist saying they were approved to expand the trial.”

The family was elated.

"Oh that's awesome!" Sanchez said. "That must have just come in because we just hung up with him!"

“Fantastic,” Sharlene Barris said. “Oh that’s wonderful!”

Now, the family said they are hoping the trials continue to expand and progress so that more people can get the plasma they need.

“Just employ the FDA on a federal basis,” Sanchez said. “Keep moving forward on allowing that number [to rise].”

The Barris family said they are still working on ways to advocate for patients in need. They also hope more people who are able, can donate plasma once the call

“I will continue to give as long as I am able,” Lawrence Barris said.