Tampa Firefighter to the Blood Donor Corridor of Fame for assist battle COVID-19

Fireman honored for many victims

Briona Arradondo reports

A Tampa firefighter was inducted into a blood donor hall of fame for administering multiple rounds of convalescent plasma after a prolonged recovery from COVID-19.

Rush Roberts received the award at the OneBlood Palm Harbor location for the numerous donations he has made over the past year. He was a firefighter for 14 years and trained for the Haines City Ironman Triathlon last spring. Then he tested positive for the coronavirus at the beginning of the pandemic shutdowns in late March / early April.

“I had a significant experience at work and I took it really seriously,” he said. “I had called my wife on the way home and said, ‘You’re sending me home. I had an exposure and I think we should take it seriously,’ and thank god we did.”

He said his experience started out relatively mild and then got worse.

“On the sixth day, I had severe breathing difficulties as I moved around the house and got up to go to the bathroom,” said Roberts.

He said the coronavirus had a number of effects on his body, including months of affecting pneumonia, bronchitis and, ultimately, blood clots. The first aider became the patient.

“I’ve been in and out of Tampa General maybe five times during this whole thing, and every time they took it seriously. They saw me before they dropped patients, so they knew I needed help,” Roberts said.

And his urge to help others never went away. Doctors use blood from COVID-19 survivors to treat severe cases. So Roberts started donating convalescent plasma as soon as possible.

“I went in to give plasma but that was actually the experience that opened my eyes because while I was giving it I said, ‘Do you ever let people know if their plasma is being used?’ And the lady looked at me and said, “It’s not just used. It will be used tomorrow. We are in such dire straits and this is the only thing that helps people, “said Roberts.

He made four donations until new drugs to help the blood clots made him ineligible. But his donations were enough for OneBlood to take notice.

“We think he’s a prime example, and that’s why he was inducted into the Donor Hall of Fame because he’s not only a blood donor, he’s also a blood donor in the higher calling,” said Pat Michaels, a spokesman for OneBlood.

While waiting for the chance to give again, Roberts said his job allowed him the opportunity to help with the vaccine. So he makes sure that seniors are protected.

“A lot of people came by and said they hadn’t seen their children or grandchildren in 9 months to a year and they prayed for it,” he said.

His ability to give back means a lot to him. As for what to do for himself, he said he wanted to regain a sense of normalcy and get back to fighting fires.

“I trained for an Ironman beforehand. It technically takes place in April, which gives me a little less than four months to train, and I want to at least finish,” said Roberts.

Roberts said he found out last week that he had no more blood clots in his lungs. Once he finishes his medication, he plans to see if he still has the COVID antibodies to start giving plasma again.

To donate blood or make a convalescent plasma donation, visit the OneBlood website at https://www.oneblood.org.

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