Coronavirus Safety: Bay Area company finds solution to protect transplant patients from COVID-19

BRISBANE, Calif. (KGO) -- The novel coronavirus has created a serious risk to a small but very vulnerable segment of our population - transplant patients.

They are given immune-suppressing drugs to prevent organ rejection. A Bay Area company has come up with an innovative system to monitor them without leaving their homes.

Modesto resident Shawn Sousa had successful heart transplant surgery five months ago. Shortly after going home, COVID-19 emerged, posing a serious infection threat.

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He needs frequent blood tests to monitor for organ rejection, but going to a hospital lab is something transplant patients fear.

"At a lab there's probably other people there that are sick," said Sousa. "They're getting their blood drawn for a reason, so it's always nice not to have to go to the hospital."

An ideal solution was developed by Brisbane-based CareDx, which has a system in which mobile phlebotomists, or blood technicians, do at-home blood draws wearing masks, shields and other protective gear. Kiran Khush is a transplant cardiologist at Stanford Health Care.

"If we don't have these regular blood draws, it's possible if their immunosuppressant drug levels are too law, they could be at risk for rejection, and if the levels are too high, that can adversely affect the liver and kidney function," Dr. Khush explained.

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Heart transplants were done on more than 2,100 adults and 348 children in the U.S. last year.

While the number is relatively low, those patients are among the most at-risk for COVID-19 infections. Shawn Sousa says it dominates talk among his network of fellow transplant patients.

The CEO of CareDx, which created the RemoTrac service, considers it a lifesaver.

"Having a very simple, at-home solution where you can get the blood draw done and then the result goes back to the transplant center and they can stratify what to do next is incredibly important," said Peter Maag. "Transplant patients are very worried right now."

The service is covered by insurance.

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