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Plasma center draws 150 donors daily

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Business continues to grow at the city's only blood plasma donation center.

Located on Charleston's West Side, IBR Plasma Center is nearing its one-year anniversary of doing business in the city. When it opened in July, the center was seeing about 600 people per week, but that number has grown by about 50 percent over the past few months, assistant manager Buck Evans said.

Although the state of the national economy has left many jobless and looking for easy money, Evans said he isn't sure the economy has much to do with the growing interest in plasma donation in Charleston.

About three years ago, Evans worked for a plasma center in Huntington that saw about 400 donors a day. He said Charleston's center has yet to see that kind of business.

"And the economy was better then," he said.

The center in Charleston averages 150 donors a day, and Evans said the number usually goes up at the end of the month.

"We attribute that to welfare payments," he said.

Welfare payments are typically made during the first week of the month.

The first donation pays $25 with a possible $5 bonus, depending on how the donor heard about the company, Evans said. A donor is paid $30 for the second visit.

"We're paying them for their time, not for their plasma," Evans said.

Many donors are regulars at the center and have established rapport with the employees. They have nicknames for each other and joke back and forth during donations.

The center employs 32 people.

Terrell Harris-Bentley doesn't fit the mold of donors who give their plasma to supplement welfare payments. As a medical student, the 27-year-old said he believes in the company's mission of providing much-needed plasma products to health care providers.  

"I feel it's good to do," he said. "That's the main reason I do it, not the money."

"They don't pay that well anyway," Harris-Bentley said, adding that he uses the money for bus fare to and from school.   

It takes about an hour to donate. Evans doesn't know why, but he said women tend to take less time in the donor chair than men.

A donor must give plasma at least twice before the center sells his or her plasma.

Each donor is screened for hepatitis and HIV and is given a basic physical before any blood is drawn. Although donors are asked what medications they are taking and if they are using any illegal drugs, the center does not perform drug tests, Evans said.

"As far as I know, we used to test for drugs," he said. "But we are just told don't do it any more."

A donor suspected of lying about drug use is asked to leave, he said.

The American Red Cross, which is not affiliated with any plasma donation center, performs similar screenings. Red Cross spokeswoman Cheryl Gergely said the organization also does not test for drugs but asks donors about their drug use and other possible high-risk behaviors.

However, unlike plasma donation centers, the Red Cross does not compensate donors. Gergely said it's a matter of principle.

"The Red Cross never has and never will compensate our donors," she said. "We might give them a tote bag or T-shirt from time to time, but we want to make sure they are giving for completely altruistic reasons and not because they are getting anything in return."

Yellow in color and containing mostly water, blood plasma contains dissolved proteins, glucose, clotting factors, mineral ions, hormones and carbon dioxide.

After a trained phlebotomist draws a donor's blood, the blood is put into a centrifuge and spun at high speed until the normal red cells fall to the bottom and the plasma rises to the top.

The plasma then is poured from the top of the container and stored in a freezer.

The red blood cells are returned to the donor with the use of a device Evans said is similar to a dialysis machine. Evans said plasma donors rarely experience the dizziness or nausea that a few blood donors feel after giving their blood.

But the center keeps sugary snacks on hand just in case. They also ask that donors keep themselves well hydrated before their visit.

The blood is drawn in an aseptic environment, and the company assures donors that HIV/AIDS cannot be contracted from donating plasma.

Donors are separated into three weight classes. Based on a donor's weight, he or she can give 690 milliliters, 825 milliliters or 880 milliliters. Anyone weighing more than 400 pounds is not allowed to donate.

Plasma is used to make clotting agents and serums for medical use. Evans said there is very little money to be made on the sale of raw plasma, but the price increases when plasma is used in a product.

The company allows donors to give twice in a seven-day period, and there must be at least 48 hours between each donation, Evans said.

There is also a pre-donation questionnaire that asks questions like: "Do you have any tattoos, piercings, or brandings?" "Have you ever been in jail or prison?" "Have you been pregnant in the last 6 months?" and "Do you have an allergy to latex, iodine or adhesives?"

To donate, you must have a valid identification, proof of Social Security number and proof of permanent address. Donors must also be at least 18 and weigh at least 110 pounds.

Contact writer Billy Wolfe at billy.wolfe@dailymail.com or 304-348-4843.


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