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For many plasma donors, extra cash is a bonus

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♦For more information about plasma donation at BioLife Plasma Services, 7921 Coldwater Road, or to schedule an appointment, call 422-7435.

♦Any plasma donor can still donate blood to the American Red Cross after 27 days of the plasma donation. To give blood to the Red Cross, call 1-800-448-3543. Schools, churches, businesses and organizations interested in sponsoring a Red Cross blood drive should call 480-8100.

Hundreds of local residents help make ends meet financially with regular trips to donation center.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009 - 10:29 am

Like most families, James Jubinville and his wife are pinching pennies in these tough economic times. A road construction worker and father of two, Jubinville is laid off each winter but is especially feeling strapped this year. To help make ends meet, he is trying to refinance his mortgage.

He also is earning cash by giving plasma at BioLife Plasma Services, 7921 Coldwater Road.

Jubinville earns at least $50 a week giving plasma, driving twice a week from Huntington. People can donate every 48 hours but only twice per week at the area's only for-profit plasma donation center. Donors must be at least 18 years old. They are given $20 for the first donation of the week and usually $30 for the second one.

“Sometimes they run specials,” he said. For example, last month, each second donation of the week went up by $10, so by Week 3, Jubinville made $50 for the second donation, or $70 for the week. He has even recruited other construction workers to give plasma.

Eric Petty is regional marketing representative for BioLife. Other Indiana plasma centers are in Bloomington, Kokomo, Muncie and Elkhart, with 57 centers nationwide.

The exact numbers of donors is not released by the company, Petty said, but on Tuesday, all 66 recliners at the Coldwater Road site were full. The procedure takes about 90 minutes, and the center operates for 13 hours, five days a week, plus four hours on Saturdays. That could equate to more than 500 people a day, or 2,500-plus units of plasma collected a week. One collection is about the amount in a large water bottle.

Jubinville has been giving plasma at BioLife year-round for 1 1/2 years and said, “I used to be able to walk in and maybe have to wait a little while, and now I have to make an appointment. It's extremely busy.”

Plasma is the liquid, yellow portion of blood. It makes up nearly 60 percent of blood and consists of 90 percent water and 10 percent protein molecules and other factors needed for blood clotting, for the immune system and for other processes.

Two lines of tubing are used, one through which blood flows out of the donor's arm, and the other through which all the cells, plus some saline are returned to the donor's body. A machine separates the components. A larger needle is used in plasma collection than with regular blood donation, a factor that deters some people.

Plasma donors and friends Shaun Flotow, 30, and Shaun Ratliff, 27, say the small amount of pain at needle insertion no longer bothers them.

“I got over that the first time I gave,” said Ratliff, who works at MC Sports. Flowtow works at Toys “R” Us. Both men said giving plasma helps replace lost income since their work hours were cut after the holidays.

The American Red Cross also collects plasma, but the nonprofit does not pay donors. Agency spokeswoman Amanda Banks said winter weather is a factor in donations, so it is hard to know if BioLife's payment to people for plasma is affecting Red Cross donations.

She points out plasma collected by for-profit centers is used for research and some medical therapies, whereas, “Here at the Red Cross plasma goes directly to hospital patients in need, most often to burn victims, shock victims or patients admitted for a trauma,” she said.

Representatives from both Lutheran Health Network and Parkview Health said 100 percent of blood they use is purchased from the Red Cross.

Baxter Healthcare Corp., which develops and manufactures pharmaceuticals and medical devices, owns BioLife and is involved in a human clinical trial of an Alzheimer's treatment. Plasma was used in development of the drug.

BioLife must adhere to the same Food and Drug Administration rules and regulations as the Red Cross, and Petty said every plasma collection is tested for a host of diseases, then frozen and kept in regional distribution centers for at least six months to ensure it is safe before usage.

Collecting plasma - the only blood product for which the FDA allows donors to be paid - is “a many-tiered approach,” Petty said. “It's not just about giving plasma, giving money…it's about “rewarding (people) for their compassion.”

But critics of a payment system say the practice is a slippery slope for society. Still, with only 5 percent of eligible U.S. donors giving blood, at issue is whether enough can be readily available when needed for patients, research and drug development.

For people like Jubinville, the money helps buy groceries and salt for the water softener, he said, noting an added bonus is, “It's not taxed. It's considered a donation.”