3/20/21 Plasma Donation, Natalie Fedor Iodine Swab Close-Up

To prevent infection, Exponent News Editor Natalie Fedor (creative writing '22 and mass communication '22) has iodine applied to the donation site by the group leader on staff. 

Over the past year, the maxim “Health is wealth” has seemingly been confirmed again and again. But some Boilermakers have cashed in on their long-term investments in illness.

The secret?

Students and others who have fully recovered from COVID-19 can receive more compensation for donating their antibody-rich blood plasma than other donors.

Donation centers like CSL Plasma in West Lafayette’s Wabash Landing have been deemed essential during the pandemic. Many students seeking to make a quick buck donated before COVID-19. But those who have donated after recovering from the virus report earning compensation up to $100 per donation, compared with the usual $60.

Along with the satisfaction of more money in their pockets, donors also may help to save recipients’ lives in the process.

“Plasma-derived therapies also are used in cardiac surgery, organ transplantation, burn treatment, and to prevent hemolytic diseases in the newborn,” said Rhonda Sciarra, director of communications at CSL Plasma. “Children and adults alike benefit from therapies made from plasma donations.”

Payment for donations differentiates plasma donation from traditional blood donation. Blood donors are not given money because the entire product goes into another person. It’d be akin to selling an organ like a kidney or pancreas for cash.

“At worst, I’m a little bit dehydrated after donating, but not really ever sick,” said Trevor Weinstock, a senior in the College of Engineering and recent donor. “You just have to remember to eat a little beforehand and put what you’re doing out of your mind — so you don’t get nervous.”

Like most other students, Weinstock reported hearing about plasma donation through word of mouth.

“It’s quick, convenient, a good way to earn money,” he said, “and a good way to help people.”

The plasma with antibodies for a virus, called “convalescent plasma,” has been used in medical research centered on devising treatments for adults hospitalized with COVID-19.

According to research by the New England Journal of Medicine, transfusion of plasma with higher levels of anti-COVID-19 antibodies was “associated with a lower risk of death than transfusion of plasma with lower antibody levels.”

During the pandemic, the demand for plasma has become several times larger than its prior levels. The American Red Cross reports hospital distributions for convalescent plasma have increased about 250% since October, but donor centers have struggled to keep up; the Red Cross’ reserve fell more than 70% last summer.

Plasma is the liquid portion of blood, made up mostly of water, so donors’ red and white blood cells are cycled back into the bloodstream after being separated from the plasma.

Along with being vital to blood clotting, plasma carries hundreds of valuable proteins, most importantly viral antibodies. All these different protein products are processed and end up in an array of pharmaceuticals.

Unlike blood transfusions, plasma is not classified by type, such as A, B, AB or O. Theoretically, anyone can donate their plasma to anyone else. There are many medical concerns and restrictions related to donations, however, and a significant number of potential donors are turned away at first visit.

Among the guidelines is a minimum weight requirement of 110 pounds, two weeks without COVID-19-related symptoms and no underlying health conditions — especially those related to the heart. Also restricted are “tattoos and piercings within the last four months,” Sciarra said.

“The first visit, with all the screening and paperwork, took about three hours,” Weinstock said. “But after that, it’s much easier to get in and out, and it only takes about one hour. For people normally queasy about donating blood, it’s not nearly as bad.”

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