Students donate plasma in exchange for cash

Some Florida A&M and local college students have chosen alternative means to earn money as the unemployment rate continues to rise.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate has jumped to 9.8 million percent and the number of unemployed persons has increased from 7.6 million to 15.1 million since the start of the recession in December 2007. 

As of Sept 2009, the unemployment rate in Florida is 11.0 percent and 7.5 percent in Tallahassee.  

This situation is especially true for college and university students.  Traditionally, students would rely on part-time jobs, scholarships and parents for financial support. 

“I first heard about the services of plasma through my friend,” said Jeffrey Saint Gilles, 19, a second-year business and industry student. “I decided to do it because it was free money and it was helping other people out.”

Tallahassee is home to three plasmapheresis centers that collect plasma to be processed and used for medical therapies. 

Facilities such as Biomat USA, Southeastern Community Blood Center and Talecris Plasma Research Resources rely on volunteer donations of plasma in exchange for a fee. This has drawn many people who are either unemployed or trying to make quick cash to offer their services.  

“It was around June of this year when I started donating,” said Trisha Strachan, 23, a first-year Tallahassee Community College nursing student. “I was attracted to it because it was something I could get money from… now and then.”

Eric Merreny, 21, a third-year physical therapy student at Broward College, said he was conducting research on donating platelets when he discovered, through the Biomat USA Web site, the services they offer.  

“I think it’s definitely a good service because a lot of people need plasma so the best way to get it is to have people just come in and just do it,” Merreny said. “I’ve been told it’s mainly used for people who are either sick or who have been in major accidents and they need that [plasma].” 

Plasma is the fluid blood cells travel in. It is composed of about 90 percent water in addition to dissolved minerals and salts such as potassium, magnesium, calcium and sodium according to the Biomat USA Web site.

The Web site also said, plasma is extracted by spinning a tube of blood in a centrifuge until the blood cells separate. Although donors undergo this process every visit, some think donors do not fully understand their impact.

“I really don’t think people have an understanding of what’s done with the plasma,” Saint Gilles said. “They just go do it and blissfully expect dome free money at the end.”  

Those who attend the services of Biomat USA are free to donate twice a week. Saint Gilles said this limit is placed to protect donors from suffering detrimental effects and to allow the body time to replenish its plasma. Donors receive $25 for their first donation and $30 for the second.

Saint Gilles, who has frequented Tallahassee’s Biomat USA in the past year, said the experience can sometimes be hectic as people arrive early in the morning to compete for the chance to donate. 

“I’ve been there early myself and I’ve seen twenty people waiting outside for it to open,” Saint Gilles said. “That was just in the morning and the facility is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.”

According to donors, the age and background of other donors are diverse. Regardless of their socioeconomic status, race, sex or values, their motivation for donating boils down to a few reasons.