Eighteen beds sit in a row, machines separating the spots where donors will soon sit. Machines stand next to the beds, awaiting donor blood to separate life-saving plasma and remaining hemoglobin.
The beds are part of a complex process at Biotest Plasma Center where people get paid to have their blood taken. The business opened on Sept. 26 and has since processed over 140 new donors. The donors consist of students and community members alike.
The center is located in the Vermillion Technology Center, which was a $4.2 million building in the middle of a lawsuit between Vermillion Area Chamber and Development Company and Twin Cities-Based Eagle Creek Software Services last semester. VCDC temporarily moved into the VTC but has since moved back to a downtown location.
Jenny Timperley, Biotest Plasma Center manager, said she likes the space and atmosphere the building provides.
“We are kind of trying to shy away from a typical plasma center. We don’t want it to be a sterile environment,” she said. “We want it to be something where they can come study, you know, where people can come and not feel hospitality, more of a warm environment.”
Plasma is the liquid part of blood that Biotest describes as “straw colored.” Its contents are 90 percent water, 10 percent proteins and clotting factors and has small amounts of salts, glucose and lipids.
The reason plasma is so sought after is because it contains antibodies that protect people from diseases. According to Biotest, millions of people of all ages are critically ill and depend on plasma.
Timperley said the plasma is used to create many kinds of medications.
“So what they will do is make pools of that plasma and then they fractionate it. We make all sorts of medications and some of it also is sold to people buying the plasma to make medication, other pharmaceutical companies,” Timperley said. “They make immune globulin for people who have immune deficiencies is the primary use of the plasma.”
Donating Plasma, a website devoted to giving information about plasma donation, said some diseases that require plasma treatments are Hemophilia, Von Willebrand Disease and Antithrombin III Deficiency. It can take as many as 1,200 plasma donations to supply enough medication to treat one Hemophilia patient for a year.
Timperley said she thinks many donors don’t realize how they are changing recipients’ lives by donating.
“We have two young individuals who live in Melbourne and they suffer from immune deficiencies and their stories are on their (Facebook) and it’s really touching. They come and talk to us when we have our manager meetings and the whole room’s crying,” she said. “I think a lot of people sometimes feel like plasma is just to get money but I don’t think they really know the true meaning behind it and that it is really needed and badly.”
How to donate
Timperley said in order to give plasma a donor needs to be 18-years-old, at least 110 pounds, have a valid ID and proof of a permanent address.
A first time donor needs to schedule an appointment to donate. The first appoint will take two and a half to three hours.
“Basically your first time you come in and we register you in our system. We do checks, there’s some reading material we need you to go over, there’s consent forms you need to sign. We also give you a non-invasive physical,” she said. “Make sure you’re okay to donate and that’s all done on the first time along with your donation.”
There are 18 Food and Drug Administration approved machines for plasmapheresis (the process of donating plasma).
“But once our tracking shows that we do five donations per machine a day, we’ll up our machines,” she said. “Our goal is to have up to 50 machines in the center.”
The donor sits on one of the beds and a Biotest employee hooks them up to a machine that starts drawing the donor’s blood. The machines separate the plasma from the rest of the blood. The plasma is collected and the rest of the blood is returned to the donor through the same needle the blood was taken from.
After the plasma is collected, it’s tested for transmissible viruses like Hepatitis and HIV. The plasma is stored in the center’s freezers until the test results come back. Once the plasma is cleared, it’s shipped off-site.
Timperley said that once someone is a return donor, the center’s goal is to get the donor in and out in under 90 minutes.
“Most of the time it’s way less than 90 minutes, but if we get a large rush of people at the same time, it could take up to that,” she said. “But, our general goal is to get you in and out as quickly as possible.”
Once someone is a return donor, they can stop by the center whenever they please. Before going to the center to donate, it is recommended that donors drink a lot of water and eat a big meal.
“Don’t come in if you’re sick or have sever allergy symptoms. Most of our regulations are not even plasma-based — they are for the health and safety of the donor,” Timperley said. “So, basically, if they’re not healthy, we don’t want to take the plasma because the plasma is what carries the antibodies through your blood.”
Timperley said a college town is an ideal place to open a plasma center because college kids are ideal donors.
“College students are awesome as well, because they are at the peak of their health and we are looking for people that have healthy plasma so that we can use it,” she said.
Donors can give plasma two times in a seven-day period as long as there is a day in between donations.
“We see most people average seven to eight times a month,” Timperley said. “But it’s not uncommon to see nine to 10 times a month.”
Donors are paid on a monthly scale. For each time they donate in that month, they get a certain amount of money. The payment is loaded on to a reusable Visa card, said Timperley.
“We don’t keep cash on-sight. Just because where there’s cash there’s a likelihood of robbery so we choose to do an electronic payment system and it loads right to their card,” she said. “Right when they get done, we pay them.”
Timperley said that in the future, the center will run Twitter promotions for donors to make extra money.
First-year USD student Adam Updike was donating for the first time last week. He said he was donating for the money.
“One of my friends in Omaha has donated before and told me about it and then I found out one was opening here,” he said. “I’m a poor college kid so I need the money.”
Timperley says the center currently has 24 employees and are still looking for more.
“Right now were looking at (hiring) about three part timers — they just need a high school diploma. We are all about on the job training,” she said. “Between me and the two other managers, we have an excess of about 16 years of phlebotomy. I have 13 and they each have three plus. So we will teach them all (of) what they need to know.”
About half of Biotest staff is from USD.
“We have five current students and then the rest were former students at USD,” Timperley said. “The majority of our staff is from the college.”
USD seniors Samatha Heibult and Jody Vanden Hoek are both psychology majors that started working at the center when it opened. They said they found out about the job at the career fair and have enjoyed the job so far.
Vanden Hoek said she enjoys how different the work is from previous jobs she has had.
“It’s not like a job I’ve ever had before. I was really surprised when they let us use the machines,” she said.
Heibult said she has enjoyed the on the job training.
“I was surprised that we were able to poke people without a certificate,” Heibult said.
This Biotest Plasma Center is the 21st to open in the country and only the second to open in South Dakota. The first opened in Brookings in May.
“We’re happy to have you and were happy to be in Vermillion,” Timperley said. “We’re really excited. We just need donations and plasma to make medications. The money is just the perk.”