I became a plasma donor a number of years ago, while searching for a way to earn some cash quickly. Since I worked in this industry for several years, I had known about it, but never gave it a second thought until I really needed the money. It is a safe, relatively painless way to earn a few extra dollars on the side. You get paid right after the process is complete. Besides the obvious benefit of getting paid, you are helping to save a life by donating blood plasma.
Plasma is the yellow or straw-colored, liquid portion of your blood. Your blood is roughly 55% plasma, and the rest is composed of red blood cells, white cells, and platelets. Plasma contains important proteins like antibodies, albumin, gamma globulins, enzymes, and clotting factors. These proteins help your body perform numerous functions such as fighting microbes and infections, normal clotting of the blood, digesting food, and metabolism. The plasma that you donate is put through a manufacturing process to make life saving therapies for patients. People like hemophiliacs are counting on plasma donations in order to sustain life.
In the United States you can donate plasma at an FDA regulated plasma collection center. Most of the time the centers are owned and operated by private, biopharmaceutical companies. I am going to go through some of the things that you should expect as a first time donor.
To get started, you will need a government issued picture I.D. and a social security card. The plasma center will need this documentation in order to verify your identity. Some plasma collection centers also require proof of address, such as a utility bill or banking statement. Have the proper documentation ready, because you won’t be allowed to donate without it.
On your first visit as a new donor, the entire process from start to finish will take about three to four hours. However, it can take more or less time, depending on unpredictable factors, like the amount of donors ahead of you, staff available, etc. So don’t bother attempting to donate plasma on a day when you have other important commitments.
You will go through a screening process and private physical exam on the first visit. The screener will verify your residence and identity. You will be asked many questions about your health history and sexual history, lifestyle, etc. This is to “weed out” people who aren’t healthy, are engaged in “high risk” behaviors or aren’t qualified to donate. Your pulse, blood pressure, temperature, weight, hematocrit, and hemoglobin will be measured. Your blood protein level will be tested as well. A urine sample may also be requested for the physical exam.
All this information on you will be kept in a confidential file and/or computer records. After your first donation, you will be considered a regular donor and won’t need to go through a physical exam. You will need to go through and pass a screening every time you donate. Also, you will asked to read and sign many forms as part of the screening process. These forms are mostly documentation that you know and understand the process and the policies of the plasma collection center.
After you pass the screening and physical exam, you will be sent to a waiting room. You just wait until it is time for you to donate. Bring a book or a music player to keep you occupied while you wait.
Examples of questions that you may be asked during the screening and/or physical exam are:
Do you have any piercing or tattoos? When did you get the piercing or tattoo?
Have you been to prison or jail within a specified period of time?
Have you donated whole blood within a specified period of time?
Have you been treated for any sexually transmitted disease within a specified period of time?
Have you traveled to Europe or Africa?
Are you taking blood thinners or Propecia?
Are you on hormone replacement therapy?
Are you pregnant or nursing?
Do you have a cold, the flu, any open wounds, or boils?
This is a limited list of questions that you may or may not get asked during the screening process.
Donors are escorted to a donation room where no eating or drinking is allowed. You relax and lay down on a donation bed during the entire process. Most plasma collection centers have free Wi-Fi, so you can surf the internet. You can also watch TV, read, or listen to your mp3 player while donating. It is just that easy. A phlebotomist will verify your identity before sticking your vein.
The area where the needle is inserted will be cleaned and disinfected prior to the needle stick. A tourniquet is placed on the arm, that you will be using, and the phlebotomist will insert a needle into your vein. You might feel an initial sting or pinch after the vein stick, but the remaining process should be painless.
The needle is attached to sterile tubing, which is attached to a sterile reservoir, and a sterile collection container, which are all connected to a plasmapheresis machine. The machine cycles your whole blood through the tubing and the reservoir and separates whole blood from the plasma. The plasma is sent through tubing to a collection container and the cellular portion of the blood is sent back to your vein. This is plasmapheresis (separating the plasma from whole blood) in a nutshell. This process happens continuously until the collection container is filled with plasma (600 ml- 880 ml collected, depending on your body weight). At the end of plasma donation, the needle is removed from your vein and a bandage is applied to stop any bleeding.
After you are done donating plasma, you will sent to a reception counter to collect your compensation. The average pay ranges from $20-$30 per donation. This depends on where you are choosing to donate and the center’s payment schedule. You are allowed to donate once every 48 hours and up to twice in a 7 day period. Therefore, you can donate 8 times in one month and make about $200 or more in a month. Some donors whom have rare blood types and antibodies in their plasma make a lot more money for their donations.
Before you donate:
Eat a hearty, healthy meal.
You will need to have enough food energy in your system to keep your blood glucose levels and energy up. Some people experience dizziness, sweating, weakness, and fainting during the donation process. This can be due to not eating enough food. I can speak from experience and when this happens it is not pleasant. I love eating a large chicken salad before donating.
Drink plenty of water before and after donating.
Donating plasma removes about 600 ml -800 ml in fluids from your body, so you need to be well hydrated. This will help to speed up the process of donating and keep you from feeling drained. I personally drink a gallon of water and Gatorade on the day before, the day of donation and after the donation. Your body will replace the plasma within 48 hours after donating. Avoid alcohol and caffeine containing beverages because they dehydrate the body.
Avoid greasy foods for at least a day before donating.
Fatty, oily, foods get broken down by your digestive system. Some of the fat molecules end up in your blood. People who eat very fatty foods may have plasma which appears milky or very cloudy during the donation. A plasma center phlebotomist will be monitoring your donation process. If it is noted that your plasma is lipemic, the donation will get terminated and you will be disconnected from the machine. Lipemia is fat in the blood. Lipemic plasma is unacceptable and will be rejected. Depending on the policies at the company that you deal with, you might not get paid anything for your trouble. Some might not pay anything, others might pay a small amount like $5, in this case.
Don’t do things that will raise your heart rate or blood pressure before donating.
This includes smoking, exercising, and drinking coffee. These activities all stimulate the heart to beat faster and might raise your blood pressure. If your pulse or blood pressure is deemed too high during the screening process, then you won’t be able to donate plasma that day. The plasma center might allow you to make an attempt to donate the following day.
People with certain conditions aren’t allowed to donate.
Under most circumstances, infection with blood-borne and sexually transmitted diseases exclude people from donating blood. If you are pregnant (or recently pregnant), have diabetes, are taking blood thinners or certain other medications, or you are anemic, you won’t be allowed to donate. Rules vary from company to company. As a precaution against spreading disease, the FDA mandates that all blood be tested for blood borne pathogens such as hepatitis B and HIV. Even though the blood is tested, it should go without saying that if a donor knows or even suspects that he or she has a disease, then don’t donate blood.
Make sure you use the restroom before you start to donate.
You will be hooked up to a machine for between 40- 60 minutes. During this time, you won’t be able to use the bathroom. I don’t think there is anything worse than feeling like your bladder is about to burst and not being able to pee.
After you donate blood a few weeks, you will pretty much observe which phlebotomists know what they are doing. Some of the “newbies” might do a painful venipuncture or cause a hematoma (bleeding and bruising of the surrounding tissues). You can request a specific person to do the vein stick. I put some very helpful links below, including an excellent link to a Youtube video that describes the donation process thoroughly.
Sources/ related information:
My experience as a former medical professional and also a plasma donor
This video goes into more detail about donating plasma and plasmapheresis.
You can get more information about donating and find a plasma donation center near you at this website.
This link is more about people who are on the receiving end of therapies, but is interesting, nonetheless
For additional information, you should also visit the website of the facility you choose to donate at.