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Students supplement income with plasma donation

Jeff Kraft’s diet has not been up to par.

The junior psychology major donates plasma on a weekly basis to Octapharma, a donation center on Hubbell Avenue in Des Moines. But lately his protein levels have been too low, and now he is on his way down I-235 to the center so he can have his blood tested.

He’s hoping he’s eaten enough protein since his last test, because if he hasn’t, he’ll be deferred for 30 days, and although he is not financially dependent on the money he makes from donating, it does constitute a good portion of his spending money.

In the waiting room there is a man in a black cutoff T-shirt with bold tattoos on his biceps, a middle-aged single mom and a well-dressed 30-something-year-old with his nose stuck in a Harry Potter-like-length hardcover. And Kraft, of course, who is helped by a gray-headed woman with a soft smile.

The center is quiet. Virtually no one speaks, except for the woman who directs Kraft to the next room where his blood test awaits.

In less than 10 minutes, Kraft returns from his test with a purple bandage covering where the needle pricked his arm.

“Ready to go? That was it,” Kraft says. The tattooed man takes Kraft’s place.

And that’s the whole thing at the Octapharma donation center: It’s an in-and-out deal. Donors patiently, quietly wait. Then they patiently, quietly sit in the large, comfy chair and let the plasma leave their bloodstream. Then they leave.

And that’s why so many choose to do it: It’s easy. It’s fast. It’s money.

For a donor’s first plasma leak, he or she is paid $20. If the donor decides to return a second time in the same week, the wage is raised to $35.

The easy money is the primary incentive for donors. Though blood tests take much shorter, donations normally take one hour. For just two hours a week, donors can make $55. That’s potentially $220 per month.

But fast cash is not the only benefit. Kraft has noticed he has been paying more attention to what he eats due to the required adequate levels of protein and iron for plasma donation.

“I’ve kind of had a sh—y diet. Not gonna lie, I eat a lot of carbs. It’s my first time living on my own,” Kraft said. “But now that I realize I need to take care of my protein level, I’ve bought healthier foods. It helps you think about your body a little more. It makes you think about what you need to do to be healthy.”

For junior Mallory Bonstrom, who is headed to Wales this semester to study abroad, another benefit is the satisfaction of giving back, of helping people in need.

“They give plasma to people who have immune system problems,” Bonstrom said. “They need plasma pretty regularly so they can fight off infection.”

Bonstrom donates at Biomat, a donation center on Sixth Avenue in Des Moines. At Octapharma, the plasma is not donated directly to patients, but is sent to research facilities in order to engineer life-saving drugs.

With the combination of easy money, helping patients in need, and improving health, donors find very few downfalls in plasma donation. Most are minor.

“Sometimes it’s hard on your immune system,” said Sarah Jones, a middle-aged single parent who has donated for 10 years to bring home extra spending money. “But if you take care of yourself and take a lot of vitamins, you should be OK.”

Or sometimes, she says, you’ll get a bad stick, meaning the nurse can’t find the vein. But that’s about it.

For others, like sophomore Michael Terrell, it’s the idea of the IV stuck in the arm that deters them from donating.

“I’d like to (donate), but last time I tried to donate blood, I passed out,” Terrell said. “I’m just kind of hesitant now.”

Others physically cannot afford to donate.

Logan North, a junior soccer player, cannot afford to lose an ounce of energy that donating plasma would steal away if he has practice to attend. Sophomore Nick Staudacher physically cannot donate because he is a hemophiliac.

“If I donated, the blood wouldn’t have all the clotting factors. So essentially, it would be bad blood. It’d do more harm than good,” Staudacher said.

Minor fatigue may occur afterward, but because the red blood cells and platelets are returned to the bloodstream after the plasma is extracted, and because saline is injected into the blood to replenish the body, donors’ energy levels are normally back up to speed just a few hours after donating.

Aside from these few exceptions, many donors have few negative things to say about their donating experience. If anything, it contributes to a healthier lifestyle.

“(Donating plasma)allows you to get medically checked up every time you go,” Kraft said. “I think that’s really important.”


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