plasmapheresis machine

My jugular feels exposed.myasthenia and plasmapheresis

Most of the time, I forget that I have a 6-inch catheter sticking out of my neck, but every once in awhile, a sudden movement brings a twinge and I’m reminded of its presence.

I’m undergoing Plasmapheresis (or Plasma Exchange) for an autoimmune disease called myasthenia gravis. My friends and family (and readers of this blog) know this disease affects my energy levels and my ability to speak, eat and breathe.

For me, Plasma Exchange is a miracle cure. After three treatments, I can hold conversations, read books to Alden and eat a decent dinner.

Because everyone always asks about these treatments, I thought I’d give you a short glimpse into the process. For those of you who are science nerds, it’s pretty cool.

Plasmapheresis Machine

One the first day, I go to the hospital’s angiography department, and they install an inner jugular catheter (seen in the picture above). While it’s an uncomfortable procedure, it’s only minimally painful, and an access point is essential to the treatment.

plasmapheresis machine

My doctor ordered five exchanges, and typically they occur over a week and a half. It’s necessary to spread out the therapy because the process also removes the blood’s clotting factor. If I got cut, I could bleed excessively. Not a good thing.Albumin

To simplify the process, the catheter has a blood-in tube and a blood-out tube. When the blood leaves my body, it goes through the fancy machine (seen above).

It spins and removes my plasma (home to the nasty antibodies that attack my neurological system). The blood then unites with the albumin, plasma replacement (seen hanging in the glass jars).

Each treatment takes about an hour and “cleans” a third of my body’s blood. (In the picture below, you can see all of the plasma that was removed from my body during one treatment. To give you a size comparison, each of the glass jars that hang next to it are a bit larger than a can of beer).


I have two more treatments to go, and then the nurses will remove the catheter. Carefully.

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