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Plasma Donation -- The Basics

Updated on May 2, 2013
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The Process

Before you decide to donate your plasma, there are a few things you should know about the process. Although every donation center has a little different order in which these steps may be carried out, they’re basically the same no matter which center you choose.

The first thing you should know, you will be required to take a physical, this includes a blood and urine test. If you’re a heavy drinker or drug user, you may be disqualified immediately and not be allowed to donate. If you are pregnant, you will not be allowed to donate. Certain prescription drugs, even antibiotics, may either disqualify you as a donor, or postpone your initial visit. So, it’s very important that you call ahead and speak to the nursing staff to find out if any medication you’re taking could affect your ability to donate.

There are age and weight restrictions for an acceptable donor:

· Must be between the ages of 18 and 65

· Must weigh at least 110 lbs

· Must be in good general health

The first stop on your visit will be the receptionist desk. You’ll need to show a current photo ID, proof of Social Security Number (or Visa Border Crossing Card) and proof of current address (any utility bill or current lease work great as long as it shows your name and current address). Some donation centers have restrictions on how far away you can live from the donation center. If you live farther than 125 miles from the closest donation center, you may not be accepted as a donor.

Once you’ve presented the proper papers at the reception desk, you’ll be moved on to the medical screening portion of your visit. Staff will be checking your weight, blood pressure, pulse and temperature to determine your suitability for donation. They will also do a finger prick, this is to check the levels of your hematocrit (red blood cells) and total protein (how much protein is actually in your blood). You will be asked to fill out a questionnaire on your past and current health, including high risk behavior.

If your hematocrit and protein levels fall within the acceptable range, you’ll move on to the physical examination portion of your visit. The staff Physician will perform a hands-on physical exam along with a medical history interview. All surgeries, major illnesses, piercings and tattoos will be documented as well during this time. It is important to know the month and year of any piercings and tattoo’s, because if you’ve had anything done recently, this will defer you from making a donation (on average, piercings = 6 months, tattoos = 12 months, but may vary by center).

If you pass the physical examination, you are ready to donate! The process is fairly simple. If you like to read, bring a book. The amount of plasma you donate is based on your weight, the more you weigh, the more plasma you will donate. The length of time it takes for your donation will also vary, so you if you have a friend that can complete a donation in 30 minutes, don’t walk in expecting your donation to be 30 minutes. My average is 32 minutes, with my fastest donation being 29, but I’ve personally seen some donors take as long as 2 hours.

For your donation, you will be seated on a donor bed, with the plasmapheresis machine on either side of the bed. You will be asked which arm you want to use for the donation, alternating arms is best, but sometimes one arm works better than the other. The Phlebotomist (staff member who will do your needle stick), will put a blood pressure cuff on the arms you will be donating with, to keep track of your pressure throughout the donation, and aid in the extraction process. You may be given a foam ball to squeeze during your donation, or you can bring one from home. The needle used for the donation process is rather large, so if needles make you squeamish, you may want to avoid looking that direction. The needle will be inserted into the cook of your arm (up-side of your elbow).

Once you have been hooked up to the plasmapheresis machine, you may hear a series of beeps, this is just telling you when you’ve started and stopped a donation cycle. When the blood pressure cuff starts to squeeze your arm, you’ll want to start squeezing your ball, or if you don’t have one, just open and close your hand. You will be able to see your blood move through the clear tubing leading from your arm to the machine. Once in the machine, your blood is collected in a small plastic bottle and the plasma is filtered out into a larger plastic bottle near the bottom of the machine (although machine designs look differently, the process is the same). Once you have run through one cycle, the blood pressure cuff will loosen and your red blood cells are returned to you through the same tubing it was taken from. The first time your blood is returned during your donation you may get a tingling feeling throughout your body and a “copper” taste in your mouth, this is completely normal.

Once you have reached your pre-determined plasma donation count, you will be given a saline solution through the same tubing used for the donation. This saline solution is kept at room temperature, so your arm may feel cold as this happens. The saline is given to help replace the plasma volume that was removed during the donation.

After your donation is complete, the donation needle will be removed and a gauze pack will be placed on the puncture spot. Your arm will then be wrapped with tape to hold this gauze in place. Remember to leave the wrap on for at least 1-2 hours after your donation so your body has time to heal and clot. Do not pick at any dried blood after removing the gauze, as you may start to bleed.

You’re done! Don’t forget to make another appointment on your way out.

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