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Donating to get paid 

Plasma centers benefit from slumping economy

Part-time cook Andre Good stood in line at the IBR Plasma Center on Central Avenue with a book in one hand and cigarette in the other. This was his second time that week at the center to go under the needle to sell plasma.

The process takes about an hour and a half. When Good was done, he was going to head straight to work -- right after he eats something so that he wouldn't pass out.

The reason he's here is simple: he needs money.

"Two years ago, I started donating," he said. Lately, he's been coming regularly to get the $25 to $30 that he earns from giving plasma.

There are three plasma donation centers in Charlotte. Since gas prices began rising and the economy took a nose dive, more people have been coming to Talecris Plasma Center on Freedom Drive, said manager James Monroe.

Talecris pays $30 for the first sale and $50 for the second, Monroe said. Sellers can come in twice a week. "That's six to eight times a month," he said.

Monroe declined to give specific numbers about how many people come in, because the center was recently taken over by a new company and he'd have to get permission to give those numbers. He did, however, say that many of the people who come to the center are repeat givers.

Just like Good.

"The money helps me get gas," Good said. "I have child support, so this gives me extra money."

Manager of the IBR Plasma Center, Roberto Molina, said sellers come on a more consistent basis now. "I'm seeing a lot of students come in," he said.

And since money is the reason for people coming in, IBR is offering incentives for people to bring a friend. "We give an extra $20 if someone brings a friend," Molina said.

Selling plasma is similar to giving blood. Patients are seated in a chair next to a blood separating machine, stuck with a needle and blood is taken from them, separated and the red blood cells are returned to the person's body by the machine.

The guidelines for selling plasma are basically the same ones for donating blood: be over 110 pounds, have no tattoos or piercings within the last 12 months and have no diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis.

Molina said that new sellers undergo physicals to make sure the plasma can be used and that they are in good health.

Good said it doesn't hurt and he's not worried about long-term health effects of his frequent sales. And he shouldn't be, according to the Lifelinebloodserv.org.

It should be noted that the site is a plasma donation industry site. However, the Food and Drug Administration has never identified any long-term medical effects of giving plasma.

Molina also said selling plasma is safe: "We're FDA regulated. There are no side effects." He added that people who do feel faint or tired after selling probably didn't eat or drink enough to replenish their bodies.

Good said that he goes to work without any ill effects after selling plasma.

But does paying people to give plasma hurt organizations, like the American Red Cross, that depend on people to give blood out of the kindness of their hearts?

While Good said part of the reason he sells plasma is to help people, he didn't say if he would go to a blood drive where the payoff is orange juice and a cookie.

According to the American Red Cross's Web site, the organization doesn't pay for donations to insure the safety of the blood -- meaning, people who give their blood freely probably won't lie about their medical history for a few bucks.

Area Red Cross spokeswoman, Debbie Estes, said that there is no indication that frequent plasma sellers have impacted the Red Cross's ability to attract donors.

"People who donate blood to the Red Cross know that blood is used for transfusions and that plasma sold to plasma centers are not. Our donors are not motivated by the same thing," she said.

Estes said that there haven't been any blood donors who've said that they're planning to sell their plasma instead of donating to the Red Cross.

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