Students are selling their bodies in response to unemployment, high rent, and the rising cost of comic books. A non-living part of their bodies, that is – plasma.
Plasma donation is executed in a similar fashion to blood donation, except that plasma cells are isolated by machine and then the blood is returned to the donor, with saline.
Plasma is a pale yellow component of blood primarily comprised of water and proteins.
Trekking across town to BioLife Plasma Services can earn you up to $50 dollars per week. While the majority of participants are college students, Food Services Director Bruce Emmerson is one donor grossing an average $200 dollars per month from plasma.
Money is by and large the reason why people extract the vital substance. Because plasma has no living components, donors must be compensated.
The collected plasma may be used for direct transfusions to patients with genetic protein deficiencies, or processed into various therapeutics. It cannot be produced synthetically.
“The medical research is a nice afterthought,” joked Senior Peter French.
French donates regularly to supplement his paycheck, all of which goes towards rent. Donors range from depending on the BioLife ATM cards for basic necessities, to merely using them for hobby funds. Emmerson maintains his two tropical fish tanks with his money.
Engaging in the activity can affect reputation and relationships. Hannah Patterson, Senior, explained that where she previously lived, the plasma service centers were speculated to provide drug money for addicts.
Senior Laura Zehr commented, “It looks like you have track marks!” Zehr cited a donor who has been asked if they shoot heroin because of the inne-rarm bruises left by the plasma needle.
Another instance of donation’s effect on social dynamics has occurred in Patterson’s house. One housemate relies on plasma to buy groceries. Other housemates are given a food allowance by their parents.
A positive side to the business also becomes apparent when talking to donors.
“It’s like Cheers,” Emmerson remarked in regards to the BioLife staff’s friendliness. Cleanliness and punctuality are paramount to the BioLife structure. If one arrives over five minutes late, they forfeit their appointment.
“They have a really systematic cleaning process,” said Patterson. “People respect it because it’s very regimented.”
Potential side effects of the 45 minute process include fatigue, dehydration, and a weakened immune system.
“I usually just take a nap, and I’m fine,” said Junior Bryce Yoder.
Emmerson, who is a member of the Five Gallon Club for full blood donation and has managed kidney stones in the past, knows and emphasizes the importance of staying hydrated and eating before an appointment.
BioLife screens donors each time for various health markers, such as levels of iron, fat content, protein, heart rate, and blood pressure. These checkups prompt better attention to health in some donors.
When Patterson donated regularly, she rewarded her body’s sacrifice by eating an abundance of protein in the cafeteria. “Every time Friday rolled around. . . I just wanted the biggest burger ever!”
Zehr once ran a 5K after donating, after which she laid in the bathroom under a cold shower to recover from exhaustion and nausea.
Ultimately, it seems donors cannot forget the darker implications of donating plasma.
Because Patterson grew up overseas, and has not lived in the U.S. consecutively for five years, she cannot legally donate full blood.
“But they will gladly pay me to give plasma,” she said, highlighting the disparity.
Emmerson feels some guilt for switching from full blood to plasma donation.
“I actually refer to it as selling my soul,” Zehr quipped.
-Randi B. Hagi, Co-Editor In Chief
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