Day 354. Plasma Center vs. Blood Center vs. Me

Friday, February 10, 2012

Today, I went in to donate plasma. This is not something I was that excited about. Nor, was I excited that I had to come back home to get something with my social security number on it. Nor, was I excited when I made it back and they told me I couldn’t donate. It turns out I had already gone into a BioLife plasma center. In college, I had gone into one, but was turned away because I wasn’t feeling very good. I was still active in Iowa City’s BioLife, so I couldn’t donate at this location without some paperwork that has to go between the two locations. So, a rejected donation fifteen years ago stopped me from getting my well earned $20 in blood money today.

The people at the center were very nice and all of the signage is encouraging that you’re saving a life, but I know too much. See, as I have mentioned, I used to work at a blood center, the cousin to the plasma center. Our blood center also talked about saving lives. The only difference is our blood center really meant it in a direct way. This has nothing to do with my current life, but I thought I’d share anyway as a PSA.

Once upon a time, blood centers paid people for their donations. This was going fine, until they realized that the blood supply was not remaining very clean, and thus, not remaining safe for the vulnerable people in the hospital receiving the blood. Why? Because the payment gave people an incentive to lie on their donor history. You know, the parts about travel, and lifestyle, and if you’ve had sex with a prostitute since 1977. If people are lying about those things, then the blood supply can’t remain clean. So, the FDA decided that if a blood donation is going to go to a person in the hospital, then it has to come from a volunteer donor, that is, someone that has not been incentivized in any meaningful way to lie on the donor history.

And that is how it was split.

But, “Jeff,” you say, “Then why are there plasma centers that pay money?”

“Good question,” I reply. “Plasma centers can take donations, and pay you for their donations as long as the donations don’t go to a patient.”

“Then where does my plasma donation go?” you ask.

“I’ll tell you,” I say. “Your donation to a plasma center can go to research and medicine, just not into people.”

“But, then, why do they say I am saving a life with my donation? That seems dishonest,” you say.

“You are very wise,” I reply.

Then wait for dramatic purposes as it sinks in.

Finishing my well timed swig of merlot I begin again. “Your donation is saving a life in the sense that it will go into research and medicine, which presumably is in the business of improving lives, maybe even saving them. So, it’s a bit of a stretch, but, you are definitely doing a good thing, it’s just not a straight line as they would lead you to believe.”

If you want to truly save a life, as in your donation is put into the body of someone who needs it sort of way, you can donate whole blood or plasma at a blood center near you. If you want to make money, and do something pretty good, as I do, go to a plasma center. Just go in knowing what you’re doing.



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