Students share experiences donating plasma

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Donating plasma is a common practice among college students and a quick way to make extra cash.

While plasma donations help many people, there are some risks, such as bleeding, bruising and dehydration. Because of these risks, some university students have mixed feelings about donating plasma and feel they would rather go without the cash.

Joe Wirthlin
A woman donates plasma in Provo. Provo residents and college students can donate their plasma at local donation centers. (Joe Wirthlin)

Hydration

Plasma is an essential component of blood. Grifols plasma center’s website explains plasma as “the liquid portion of your blood that contains water, salts, enzymes, antibodies and other proteins that help our bodies function.”

“Plasma cannot be artificially produced. It can only be sourced from healthy individuals who choose to donate,” according to a BioLife company statement. “Plasma donations are used to create life-saving medicine for hundreds of thousands of people who live with rare and complex chronic diseases including immunodeficiency disorders.”

Emma Plank, a student at BYU, feels that in order to donate plasma, a donor needs to be prepared. She said whenever she donated plasma, she was encouraged to be very hydrated before each donation session.

Plank said that when she had been consistently donating plasma, she had always tried to drink plenty of water beforehand. Yet, on one such occasion, she said was too hydrated.

Plank was donating plasma on a busy day and waited in line for a long time. After finally sitting down, she had to wait again for a phlebotomist.

“I was like, okay, well, there’s no going back. And so while I was donating, I literally peed my pants. So I was like, this is definitely rock bottom for me,” Plank said. “I was 19 years old.”

Plank explained this was “user error” but encouraged other donors to explain their needs to the staff.

Plank’s tips for a smooth donation included “eating well, staying hydrated, not being afraid to communicate and to say what your needs are.”

To avoid busy lines and experiences such as this, BioLife encouraged students to donate in the afternoon.

“Our donation centers are typically less busy after lunch and before the after-work rush,” a spokesperson said. “1:30 or 2 p.m. is a great time to schedule an appointment.”

Joe Wirthlin
These three booths are being cleaned in preparation for donors. Dozens of people can donate their plasma at a time. (Joe Wirthlin)

Compensation

Another BYU student, Kynlie Craythorn, said she would not donate again after her experience.

Craythorn had donated multiple times and felt comfortable with the process. But she was concerned with the experience of the staff.

“I could tell they put a new phlebotomist on me. I have really thin veins, so she tried to insert the needle and she tried twice,” Craythorn said. “And by the time her supervisor came by to address it, she had already gone through my vein and punctured it.”

Craythorn said the vein bled into her arm causing it to swell and form a large bruise. The plasma center staff told Craythorn she would be compensated for her time but would not be able to donate for about three weeks. They encouraged her to start the process again in a couple of months.

Craythorn explained that while the compensation was nice, she would not be donating again.

Preparation

Cali Lawrence, a student at UVU, had a similar experience to Craythorn.

“Every single time I went, they had a hard time finding my vein,” Lawrence said. “That always made me a little bit nervous.”

Lawrence had been donating plasma for a couple of months before she decided to stop. On her fifth donation attempt, the phlebotomist struggled to find her vein, but after getting some help from other staff members, they eventually made it work.

At first, Lawrence just sat and waited. But she noticed her arm was hurting.

“I started getting really hot and, like, nauseous. But also, I kind of felt like I was going to pass out a little bit,” Lawrence said.

The BioLife plasma center is located in Orem. This is one of the plasma centers near BYU. (Dylan Eubank)

The staff came over to help her and when they pulled out the needle, they realized the blood had clotted, preventing the blood from entering back into her arm. Because Lawrence lost so much blood, the staff told her she could not return for about seven weeks.

“I think part of me thinks the reason my blood clot was maybe because I hadn’t had enough water intake,” Lawrence said. “I always had to drink a ton of water and a protein shake before I went. They just say (the) more water you’re able to drink beforehand and protein you eat, (the) more smoothly it’ll go — like the plasma will come out smoothly and then obviously, you won’t get blood clots, which is preferred.”

Even after her experience, Lawrence said some of the benefits of donating included her having extra cash on hand and a reminder to eat and drink.

“I think it also like helps me eat enough protein and also drink enough water. Like, okay, I’m donating plasma like tomorrow or in two days, I got to be eating good or drinking enough water,” Lawrence said.

Whether or not students decide to donate plasma, individuals are encouraged to do their research before and communicate their needs when donating.

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