As I sat in the plasma donation chair for over an hour I felt like the very sinews of life were being drained from my body. I began to wonder, how does a grown woman whose husband makes over six figures a year end up in a chair donating plasma for money? Well it started with good old curiosity. And you know what they say about that? Curiosity killed the cat, and in this instance, I was the cat. Although I didn’t die there were a few times I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into. In those moments, my eyes were opened to the world of plasma donating, a world in which I feel people, who are desperate for money, are taken advantage of.
I know so many young adults in college who are in a circumstance where they need money to eat, to gas their cars, just to live, and plasma donation is the easy answer. In fact, one of my close relatives does this. You may ask, what is plasma donation? When I first did I was mortified at the answer. It is like donating blood, however, they take the blood, spin it and separate the best part of the blood (plasma), keeping only that portion and injecting you with the remains. What this means for them is there is no waste and your body will replace the plasma more quickly than in a blood donation, so you can donate again in three days time.
Well, I got thinking about this, and I thought that I wanted to try it out. So there I was, Saturday, August 10th, in front of the CSL Plasma center in Mesquite, Texas. My intention was to get up and go early, around 7:00, but slept in instead, loving the cuddle time with my husband. He thought I was crazy, but knows I do crazy things, and once I put my mind to something there usually is no turning back.
The center I visited was new, they opened around the beginning of this year, so things were nice and it looked like a more modern clinic. I took my place in line. As I looked around I noticed that the building was full of propaganda. They were trying to dignify giving plasma. They very quote on their wall is “Good for You. Great for Life.” I wondered in that moment, how good is this for me? Research does not give any conclusive evidence that it is healthy to regularly donate plasma. There were posters hanging on the walls of the donating room full of messages that people were helping others with their donation.
When I made my way up to the desk they asked me for my photo ID as well as my social security card. Their automated phone system said to bring proof of residency, so I had my water bill with me too, however I was not asked for that. I was taken around the corner to a desk where I was asked to say my name, address, and social security card by memory. I think this may be a way to screen out people who are trying to pose as someone else. They also took my right thumb print. I was given a CSL prepaid Visa card and told each time I gave plasma that they would put money on my card. I was given instructions on how to use it and then handed a binder full of information. I was told to read through the information and then I would be sent to a different area to watch two videos, and then even another area for a test. Yikes, this was going to be a long day.
As I sat down to go through the binder and read the information. It was here that I found out so many things about donating. First of all there is a huge list of reasons why one cannot donate. I started thinking about how serious it would be and unfortunate if someone gave plasma to receive money and lied about any of these questions.
If you have encountered any of the following you will be deferred from giving plasma for life:
- If you have traveled to England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, The Isle of Man, The Channel Islands, Gibraltar, The Falkland Islands for 3 months or more between 1980 and 1996 or received a blood transfusion in any of those places ever. (Possible risk of vCJD)
- If you traveled or lived in France for four years or more, or received blood there since 1980. (vCJD)
- If you traveled or lived six months or more associated with a US military base in Belgium, Netherlands, or Germany between 1980 and 1990. (vCJD)
- If you traveled or lived six months or more associated with a US military base in Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Italy, Greece between 1980 and 1990. (vCJD which is a disease of the brain which has no test for detection).
Then there were the normal questions just like giving blood, if you have had any venereal diseases, if you have had sex with a man who has ever had sex with another man, even once. If you are a male who has had sex with another male even once. So on, and so forth.
They said that if you were there to see if you had HIV to leave, they wouldn’t ask why, but offered a free testing center. They do run tests on your Plasma to make sure it is disease free, so if you are sick and do not know it, then you could be notified to go see a doctor. The FDA has them run testing for HIV (AIDS), Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV-1, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C nucleic acid.
The pamphlet explains that they sell your plasma to Pharmaceutical companies to make and produce life saving drugs. It further explained that if you have plasma with certain amazing immune qualities that you would be placed on a specialty program. That you would not be notified or made aware that you were on the specialty program or nor notified if and when you are taken off.
I was read about the risks that may happen while donating plasma. These are:
- light-headedness, fainting or a loss of consciousness with or without a fall, a warm or sweaty feeling, nausea, vomiting, rapid pulse during or after the plasmapheresis procedure. Rarely a convulsion with or without incontinence.
- some blood may leak into the tissues surrounding the vein in which the needle has been inserted, causing a large bruise and discomfort, limiting the arm for up to a few weeks while healing. Rarely infection or inflammation at the puncture site which can spread infection or blood clots. Rarely there can be nerve damage resulting in tingling which may resolve in time.
- You may experience tingling sensations around the lips and fingers, as well as mild muscle tenseness and discomfort.
- There may be a breakdown of red blood cells in the plasmapheresis machine which may cause you to temporarily experience pink to red colored urine.
- You may experience depletion of plasma proteins.
- There is a remote potential for air to be infused during the blood cell return. A large amount of air could cause a reaction which could be life threatening.
- Rare allergic reactions may occur such as flushing, itching, hives, abdominal cramps, chest pain, difficulty breathing or bronchiospasm, which may be life threatening.
- Very rarely, an artery may be punctured instead of a vein, requiring removal of the needle and application of pressure.
- You should not smoke a cigarette immediately after leaving the center because you may experience light-headedness, fainting, or loss of consciousness.
After reading all of the risk factors I still decided to move forward and have my plasma drawn. So I was taken in a room for a complete physical evaluation. They nurse was very kind. I told her I was only coming to see “what it was like” to give plasma because some of my family members did it for money. I asked her how many people come to the center to save lives and give plasma “just because” (like a blood drive) and how many come for the money. She said that ALL of them come for the money, or at least since she started earlier that year.
I was taken to an area where I watched two videos, where they discussed exactly what I had read. Afterwards I went to a computer center on the wall where I took a test, asking me questions about sexual contact, drug use, and demographic areas I may have lived in. After this long process I stood in another line. Here I had my weight checked, asked about any body piercings, our if I had any tattoos. You can give plasma, but just have to fully disclose that information. I had my blood pressure taken, my temperature was taken, and my finger was poked. She spun out my blood in a machine and looked to make sure that it wasn’t full of fatty lipids. If it was I would have been asked not to eat fried chicken or foods for a few days and to come back. When everything checked out okay I finally entered the donating area.
They had rows and rows of beds to lay on, almost like chaise lounges that could easily be wiped down and cleaned. Between each bed was the Plasmapheresis machine. The nurses were wearing large plastic masks attached to head visors. It looked like a scene from a movie. They had propaganda posters around encouraging plasma donation and how you are saving lives. There were televisions playing movies with no sound, just the teleprompting along the bottom of the screen. By the time I had gotten to the donation room it was almost empty. When I had begun my process it had been completely full. I would say that 90% of the donors I saw (if not more) were African-American decent. I was the minority, being the only white woman with blond hair in the building. There was one police officer donating who was also white.
A young man came up to me, he had me lay down, put a tourniquet on my arm, asked me to pump my had several times open and closed, while he opened up sterile tubing and started attaching things to the machine beside me. When he got his needle out it was quite large in diameter. I looked away as he poked my vein. He had tourniquet too tight and blood splattered everywhere. He had to ask another nurse to come help him pick it up. Yes, it did hurt, and I was not happy. Then my blood stopped drawing into the machine. It seemed that maybe he went through the vein completely. A different nurse who seemed to be in charge came over and fiddled with the vein, pushing the needle up further. I told her it hurt, at that time she decided to go through my right arm instead.
When she took the needle out and wrapped my arm the site started itching like crazy. But because my right arm was being used I could not itch! I had to have her come over and we decided that I might be allergic to the iodine that was rubbed onto the injection site. When she washed it off the itching went away.
Finally everything started going smoothly. As I sat there the machine would tighten the tourniquet while it was taking my blood for several minutes. Then it will relax and for four minutes it will stared replacing my unused blood back into my body along with a anti-coagulant. After several rounds of this process I saw the large 2 pint bottle fill up with an almost beer like colored liquid. This is what plasma looks like. It is pretty creepy to see for the first time. I’d rather see blood. When the process was finished they gave me fluids. It was during this last part that I seemed to have a reaction. I felt cold, my lips started to tingle, my chest felt almost watery, and it seemed I had pressure on me like I couldn’t breath. I finally got the attention of the nurse to tell her and she said, “looks like your done anyway”. She unhooked me and I was glad it was over. That feeling was pretty scary for sure.
But the feeling of awfulness wasn’t over for me. I came home and slept like a baby who was over due for a nap. That night I slept just like normal, and after church came home and slept another 3.5 hours. I also had leg pain which has happened before when I am low on calcium. It came back with a vengeance. I told my husband it felt like all the “goodness had been sucked out of me”. Later when I spent the money I had received on food I joked, “I’m buying this with my blood and guts”. For some reason the sushi didn’t taste quite as good that night as it normally would.
This is how I feel. I think that plasma donation centers are raking in the money from pharmaceutical companies. I think they should be paying people more for their donations. The facility I visited is on a promotion so they pay $50 the first five times but after that it goes down to $20 a donation, rotated with $30. So that is only $50 a week for two donations. It’s a joke that if you are put on a specialty program that it is held against your knowledge. I feel if you have something special to give you should be paid for it in return. It’s time that they start being fair. As I am sure they sell that special plasma for big bucks to the pharmaceuticals, which we all know, make billions a year.
It is my hope that people will collectively understand more about plasma donation and the process, that the plasma centers will give their donors (who really are their bread and butter) more money for their time and for their potential health. Would this mamma of five donate again? Heck NO.
*If you are a plasma donor HERE is an article on how to replenish your body with what it needs after donating.