Categories
Advocacy CSI Pharmacy stories

CSI Pharmacy’s Plasma Donor Superhero

Maddie was in high school when she developed juvenile dermatomyositis, a rare autoimmune disease of the muscles that made her so weak she couldn’t walk. Bill developed myasthenia gravis, another autoimmune neuromuscular disease, after having anesthesia for bypass surgery. Amanda and her daughter have immune deficiency diseases that make them susceptible to all kinds of infections. Immune globulin (IG) has been a life-saving therapy for all of these individuals.

IG is one of a number of treatments that can only be made from donated human plasma. This year, as a result of coronavirus restrictions, plasma therapeutics companies have experienced a significant drop in donations, which will limit supplies of plasma products such as IG by the end of the year. For patients, this is their worst fear. It means they may not be able to get the medications that allow them to live a normal life.

When Justin McNeill learned that plasma donations were down by as much as 40%, he thought of patients like Maddie, Bill, Amanda, and her daughter. Much of CSI Pharmacy’s business involves providing home infusion services for those who depend on IG therapy. As a delivery technician for CSI Pharmacy, it’s Justin’s job to pack up shipments of immune globulin and the supplies needed to administer it and make sure it all gets to the patient’s home in time for their infusion. 

In the spring, CSI Pharmacy joined the Immunoglobulin National Society in an effort to raise awareness about plasma donation and to inspire more healthy donors to contribute. As part of that effort, the company initiated an internal contest to encourage employees to become plasma donors. Justin was among the first to respond.

“We were told that with all the coronavirus restrictions, people aren’t donating plasma as much,” Justin says. “That means patients aren’t going to be able to get the medicine they need. I figured I’m able to give, so there’s no reason not to.”

Justin started donating in May and has given twice a week ever since—the maximum weekly donations allowed. To date, he has donated plasma 24 times. And even though he works full time and goes to school in the evenings, showing up at the BPL Plasma donation center is part of his weekly routine. He plans to keep on giving as long as they’ll let him.

Justin may have run away with this contest, but he’s not the only CSI Pharmacy employee to participate in the plasma donor drive. Eleven other members of the staff have also donated at least twice. (Regulations require two donations before the plasma can be used to make plasma protein therapies like IG.)

The rules governing who can qualify as a plasma donor are very strict. Justin, who is 24 years old and healthy, had no problem qualifying. When several other employees attempted to donate, however, they were turned away because they have chronic health conditions or other restrictions. This only made Justin more committed to continue donating.

“I knew a lot of the people here in the office couldn’t donate because of various health issues or medications, so I said, why not me?”

“Justin is very modest,” says James Sheets, CEO of CSI Pharmacy. “I know he doesn’t like to call attention to himself. But for us he is a superhero. We are pleased that our employees take this so seriously and are willing to donate plasma. And we’re extremely proud of Justin for his ongoing commitment to making plasma donation a part of his life.”

For Justin, it’s all about Maddie, Bill, Amanda and her daughter, and others for whom he packs up the products and supplies for their home infusions. He urges anyone who qualifies to consider becoming a plasma donor.

“We’re probably about to get hit with a really bad shortage of IG products,” he says. “Our patients need this medicine that’s made from human plasma. We’ve got a lot of people who are really sick and really need this medicine. Even donating just twice will help save lives. You can make a big difference.”

As the winner of CSI Pharmacy’s Plasma Donation Incentive Program, Justin McNeill was presented with a trophy and a monetary gift during a ceremony in September.

Find a plasma donation center near you.

Categories
Advocacy Patient stories

Profile of a Plasma Donor Hero

Two-and-a-half years ago when she joined a book club through the Wounded Warriors Project (WWP), a nonprofit organization that provides programs and services for wounded veterans, Torey Reese wasn’t thinking about how much she enjoyed reading or needed some motivation to finish a book. She just wanted to find friends.

Like others in this caregiver’s group, Torey had a husband at home who had been injured during active duty as a Marine. She and her family had relocated to San Antonio, Texas a year and a half earlier. Her second child was born shortly after the move with some health problems that required several surgeries. Because of her family’s healthcare needs at the time, she wasn’t working, and she was feeling pretty isolated. The book club was a way for her to get together with others who shared some of the challenges she was dealing with.

“Pretty much immediately I thought I wanted to be friends with Amanda,” Torey says. “We loved similar types of books, and that just kind of sparked the friendship.”

Amanda Martin was there at the book club because she too cares for a former military husband with serious health issues. Since meeting three years ago, the two have found lots of other things they have in common, including children that are around the same age. And except for their current social distancing because of COVID-19, they and their kids have been inseparable.

But Amanda and her 9-year-old daughter Rita live with primary immunodeficiency disorders, which make them vulnerable to recurrent infections. Amanda depends on intravenous immune globulin (IVIG) infusions twice a month to stay healthy. Rita too receives subcutaneous IG weekly.

“Immune globulin helps control our infections,” Amanda says. “Our lives are so much better because of it. It enables my daughter to go to school. It enables me to be out in the community and to advocate for my husband. I wouldn’t be able to function as well as I do without it.”

When Torey found out about Amanda’s and Rita’s disorder and the life-saving therapy they depend on, she had to help. Immune globulin is not a drug that can be mixed up in a laboratory. It is made from donated human plasma, the golden-colored liquid that remains after the red blood cells are removed. It takes 130 plasma donations to treat one immunodeficiency patient for one year. When donations decrease, so do immune globulin supplies. If there is a shortage, as we had last summer, Amanda and Rita risk having to go a longer period of time between their infusions. They may even have to go without.

So once a week or so, Torey goes to one of more than 800 certified plasma donation centers in the country to give a bit of her plasma. She wishes she could donate twice a week, which is the maximum donors are allowed. But in addition to caring for her husband and two boys, Cayden 10 and Caspian 3, Torey now works as an accountant for a small nonprofit organization. Once a week is all she can manage right now. Still, this is a long-term commitment for Torey, who has been donating for nearly a year now.

“It’s something I can directly do to help them stay alive and stay healthy,” says Torey, who has donated plasma in the past. “I never knew anybody before who directly benefited from my donations. So when you have a person you care about, who is a real face and a real name and a real story to you, it’s hard to not want to help them. I mean, it’s a minor inconvenience to me, but it’s a major inconvenience to them.”

“I can’t express my gratitude enough for her doing this,” Amanda says with a catch in her throat. “It’s something my daughter and I talk about when we get our infusions. We’re very, very grateful and just lucky that Torey is healthy and willing to do it. This may not seem like a heroic thing to do, but for the people who benefit from it, it absolutely is.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant reduction in plasma donations in recent months. CSI Pharmacy, in partnership with the Immune Globulin National Society (IGNS) and their #ItsMyTurn campaign, urge those who are eligible to commit to donating plasma to help avoid a shortage of immune globulin and other life-saving plasma-derived products in the months to come. Reminder: It is important to seek out a certified plasma donation center to be sure your donation is used for IG products. (Donations made at blood banks and the Red Cross are not used to create IG products.)

Categories
CSI Pharmacy stories

CSI: A Special Specialty Pharmacy

“I’d always had a dream of owning a little mom-and-pop pharmacy,” says James Sheets, CEO of CSI Pharmacy. He’d had a number of jobs working in both big box pharmacies and smaller shops in and around his hometown of Texarkana, Texas, and he preferred a small, local business where he and his staff could get to know their customers.

In 2013, James’s dream came true when he and two other pharmacist friends, Barry Buls and Mark McMurry, had the opportunity to partner up and purchase North Heights Pharmacy, a shop that had been in business in Texarkana since 1975.

North Heights was doing some retail sales, but they also provided medications for some local hospice services. They also did compounding, mixing up specialized medications for individualized patient needs. The plan, when James took over as chief pharmacist, was to build on these services, with outstanding customer service as their main goal.

In a previous job, however, James had started a successful home infusion program. The service provided treatments such as intravenous antibiotics, cardiac medications, and intravenous nutrition. It was a way for patients to receive these intensive treatments at home, rather than having to go to the hospital or stay in a nursing home.

He wasn’t really trying to get back into home infusion services at North Heights, but one day James got a call from a local neurologist who had several patients who were desperate for someone to provide intravenous immune globulin (IVIG) therapy in the home. These were people with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP) who had been cut off from this service because the big national pharmacy chain that once provided it had decided it wasn’t getting paid enough by the patients’ health insurance.

“These were patients who were stable on IVIG, who had been doing well for years, yet they were losing their home infusion services,” James says. “Naturally we wanted to take care of them. Some of these patients we knew from our previous experience, so we already had a personal relationship with them.”

So James and his partners decided to go all in with home infusions, especially IVIG. They made some infrastructure changes to add the necessary facilities at North Heights, and they hired Tracy Knox, a nurse who specializes in infusion therapies, to work just with these patients. They also hired several other staff members who were experienced with the processes necessary to administer infusions, including pharmacy technician Natalie Edwards, IV technician Jet Richardson, intake coordinator Vanessa Noble, and Abe Cardenas, who serves as warehouse manager.

The pharmacy also needed a new name, one that more accurately reflected this new focus.  Clinical Specialty Infusions was born and immediately became CSI Pharmacy.

“What really sets us apart is that we’ve developed clinical programs around the different types of patients we serve,” James says.

In addition to people with CIDP, CSI also has patient communities for those with myositis and myasthenia gravis, both rare, autoimmune neuromuscular diseases. A new patient community is also developing with people who live with pemphigus and pemphigoid, which are rare autoimmune diseases that affect the skin and/or mucus membranes.

In caring for these patients, James and his team don’t just take an order from a physician and give the customer the medication. CSI hires or contracts with infusion nurses who know how best to administer immune globulin and how to monitor the patient during and after the treatment. More than that, though, they work with the whole CSI team, including physicians, pharmacists, patient advocates, and insurance staff to be sure the patient receives the individualized care they need.

More importantly, because staff spend so much time with patients, both administering the medications and working to get insurance coverage for these expensive treatments, they get to know them as friends not just patients. Staff and patients exchange personal stories, check in with each other, and share the success when the patient’s condition improves.

Infusion nurse Tracy Knox, for example, has been working with James since the beginning. “I can see the difference I’ve made in people’s lives, and I like that,” she says. “I’ve been doing infusions for this one patient for many years now. She used to have to use a wheelchair, but now I see her in Walmart and she’ll say, ‘Look! I can walk with a cane now!’”

Over the past few years, CSI has grown from a small, hometown pharmacy into a thriving nationwide specialty pharmacy with two physical locations and plans for more and a mission to make sure every patient receives the care she or he needs regardless of how much they get paid for it.