In the fall of 2020, Brandon Merz was scrambling to find ways to make money to buy groceries during his packed academic schedule at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
He decided to donate plasma.
“One of the main reasons I was able to donate plasma was because I could pick and choose when I wanted to go.,” he said. “A friend had mentioned that it was an easy way to make money, and so I took advantage of it.”
Merz is among many UNL students who choose to donate plasma. Like many, Merz decided to donate to make money. Some people donate to help the community. And some do both.
In Lincoln, there are three plasma donation centers, with two located downtown near the UNL campus.
Donating plasma isn’t the same as a blood donation. In this process, also known as plasmapheresis, the donor’s arm is hooked up to a machine that begins drawing blood. The blood is then sent through a machine that separates the plasma from the blood. The plasma is the liquid substance that makes up over half of the blood’s nutrients.
Following the withdrawal, the plasma is frozen at the donation center and stored there until tests have been done to ensure the plasma is safe to use.
The red blood cells and platelets are then returned to the donor, along with doses of saline. These doses help replace the plasma that was taken from the donor. The process takes up to one hour for all plasma donors. However, the process for new donors will take up to three hours due to paperwork, a quick physical and a questionnaire that asks about recent medical history.
Nick Swan, a registered nurse at Madonna Rehab Center, a long-term acute care hospital in Omaha, was a frequent plasma donor in college and still donates when he has time. Swan said that the importance of plasma donation can not be understated.
“There are numerous essential medications that can only be made from human plasma,” he said. “For many conditions and disorders there is no substitute for plasma protein therapy, which only comes from human donation.”
Plasma can be used to help save the lives of burn and shock victims, cancer patients, organ donor recipients, and people with compromised immune systems.
The three donation centers in Lincoln offer money for a donor’s plasma. While the compensation for donors can vary at the centers, donors are only eligible to donate twice every week with 48 hours between visits.
Grifols, a national plasma donation business, has one branch, Biomat USA, in Lincoln, located at 300 S. 17th St. At this donation center, people can earn up to $150 for each of their first four visits. Following those initial visits, the branch offers different amounts of money based on what month it is. For example, in the month of March they offer donors $40 for their first visit of the week and $150 for their second visit.
KEDPLASMA, another national plasma donation business, has two locations in Lincoln. One is at 733 N 45th St., and the other is at 2002 N St. At KEDPLASMA, first-time donors are given $100 for each of their first eight visits. Following the first eight weeks of donation, the compensation is not nearly as much, with donors then making between $50 and $75.
KEDPLASMA also offers a wide variety of deals. All donors who are students automatically get an extra $5 for each donation. If someone refers a friend, they are given another $100. Donors can choose to sign up to receive notifications regarding these deals.
For some people, like Merz and Swan, the money helped buy necessities during college.
“I would spend the money made from donating on gas and groceries,” Swan said.“I would also try to put some aside to save. It would always come in handy one way or the other as money can often be tight during school.”
Swan found satisfaction in giving back to the community, too.
“I knew that plasma donation is incredibly important to maintaining the health and safety of so many people,” Swan said. “It felt like I had the means to help others so I wanted to take advantage of that.”
Bri Danahey, a junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, first donated in December 2019. She donated plasma to make easy money which helped her pay for family Christmas presents.
“I first decided to donate because I didn’t have a job yet, and it seemed like easy money. I was able to get paid $200 in a week for essentially sitting down for two hours,” Danahey said.
Danahey donated because she got paid, but said the positive impact made on the community was also a plus.
“Making a positive impact on the community was just a plus, but not a big incentive to me,” Danahey said.
Rhyse Smith, a senior at UNL, is perhaps an anomaly among college students. She didn’t realize she’d get paid when she recently started donating plasma; she said she simply was donating to be altruistic.
“When I first went to donate, I wasn’t expecting to walk away with $100,” Smith said. “I have always been a big believer in community service and giving back to people. Although donating plasma is a different form of service, it’s just as important.”