By Phil Hennin
Talecris, a 27-bed blood plasma donation center in Albany, was granted a variance by the City of Albany to expand its service capacity.
Marcy McMullen, manager of Talecris Plasma Resources said that multiplied by four clients in a one day period Talecris’ capacity is about 108 clients per day.
“Around the holidays it’s always busy,” McMullen said last month. “Extra money for Christmas is one of the reasons donors are here now. Some donate to help pay for light bills, rent, food.”
A recent visitor added, “I could have supplemented rent with this money, but I found out I can’t stay at a shelter and give.”
Federal law administered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says donors must have a permanent address — shelters, motels, and temporary housing disqualifies applicants.
Another donor, “I’m making phone payments.”
“Probably some do use the money for drugs,” one man said.
McMullen said, “I don’t know. I don’t ask what people do with the money.” Once they receive payment for the donation it’s their money. They do what they want with it.”
Qualified donors can give plasma twice a week. More than that can create health risks. On the first two visits a donor receives $80. The dollar amount a donor receives after the initial screening varies depending on the time involved in taking the donation. Donors lie in a bed with an intravenous catheter in their arm for up to an hour. The process is not painful. Some watch TV, use computers, bring radios to pass the time, McMullen said.
The amount of plasma a donor can give depends on a donor’s body weight and physical condition. The screening process during the initial visit includes a physical evaluation and takes about 2 1/2 hours. Talecris screens blood samples for viral conditions, HIV, Syphilis, and other diseases. The center uses applications, questionnaires, and client interviews to screen for general health problems, drug use, and other criteria that will prevent an applicant from donating plasma.
Weekly donors are given a dye mark on one finger that shows up under a special light. That eliminates the possibility of donating too often, even at different locations during the week. Donors’ Social Security Numbers are also on file. Of three resource centers, “We serve a 60-mile radius. We have no competitors.” McMullen said.
The FDA regulates the donation of blood plasma both for the protection of donors and of the quality of plasma. For instance, the minimum age is 18 and weight, 110 pounds. An applicant’s health risks, such as poor general health or low body weight, might prevent her from donating.
In the plasma donation process, the fluid (plasma) is separated from red cells, white cells, and platelets which are then circulated back to the donor’s blood. Plasma is 92 percent water, but the other 8 percent contains proteins and antibodies. “It’s not like the Red Cross. They take the whole thing,” said McMullen, meaning whole blood is donated, as opposed to just plasma.
The plasma separation process, using a centrifuge, reduces problems with transmitted diseases or contaminates, like prescription or illegal drugs, getting into the donated plasma. Plasma is used in various medications and infusions. Prescription drugs are made from that 8 percent, useable plasma — the proteins and antibodies. Many serious and life-threatening conditions are treated through this process.
The center operates at capacity most of the time. The city granted a variance approving expansion. “We’ll expand to 48 donor beds” said McMullen, “an increase to 192 donors in a day.”
Expansion construction begins in June 2010.
“We’ll go from 6,000 square-feet to about 10,000.” McMullen said, and looking at the full waiting room, “We tend to pickup now because people need to get Christmas presents. You can tell because it’s crowded out there.”
Some disorders treated with drugs made from plasmas are infection; blood loss due to trauma, burns and surgery; immune disorders; hepatitis, tetanus and rabies exposure, lung disease cased by emphysema; hemophilia and other coagulation disorders; and immune disorders.