We’ve all heard about the importance of donating blood, but what about plasma? The truth is donating plasma can be as much of a life-saving act as blood donation.
While we frequently hear about the need for blood donations — think of people who need blood transfusions for intensive surgeries — plasma plays a different, yet essential role in helping individuals all over the world. People who have rare and complex chronic conditions, such as immunodeficiencies, rely on life-sustaining medicine developed from plasma donations – including Julie Jolley.
Julie Jolley never expected to be dependent on medicines developed from plasma. It was recurring illnesses that led her to embark on the plasma therapy journey.
“I lived a relatively healthy childhood,” she says. “But starting in my early 30s, I was sick for about eight years with repeat infections, but I always made excuses.”
Jolley worked in a doctor’s office, so she thought her daily exposure to sick individuals could be the cause of her repeated infections. She also thought her intense marathon training schedule could be an explanation for her ailments.
But when things got to the point where she ended up in the hospital with a case of severe tonsillitis in her late 30s, she started to finally wonder if something more serious was going on that explained her frequent illness. She says she desperately searched for answers and was finally diagnosed with primary immune deficiency (PI). PI is a genetic condition where some, part or all of a person’s immune system is missing or not working correctly. “In my case, although complicated, my body doesn’t build enough antibodies to protect me from certain infections,” Jolley says.
What is plasma?
“Plasma is the largest portion of your blood and when it’s separated, it’s a yellowish liquid that contains salts, enzymes and proteins,” Luke Friedrich, center manager of BioLife Plasma Services in Tukwila says.
Plasma’s main function in the body is to deliver nutrients, hormones and proteins, including disease-fighting antibodies, to the parts of the body that need it most. Plasma donations are typically used to develop medicine that helps people who suffer from rare and chronic complex conditions like PI or hemophilia.
Friedrich says that donating plasma requires a few more steps than donating blood, but it’s a pretty uncomplicated process. To confirm eligibility, people interested in donating need to have a physical exam, a screening — pulse, temperature and blood pressure — and answer a questionnaire. Here’s what else a donor can expect:
- On a donor’s first visit to a plasma donation center like BioLife, the whole process usually takes about two to three hours. Future visits take less time.
- During the donation process, your plasma is separated and collected while the other components of your blood are replenished and returned to your body.
- Donors can safely give plasma twice a week and are eligible for compensation in recognition of their time.
Why your plasma matters
Plasma donations are what people like Julie Jolley rely on. After diagnosis, what Jolley wasn’t prepared for was that her treatment was completely dependent on others donating their plasma, something she says made her “so humbled and thankful.” Plasma cannot be artificially produced in a lab. It can only come from healthy individuals who choose to donate plasma.
“For me,” Jolley says, “it takes around 130 plasma donations for a year of treatment. The treatment for each person living with PI is different. What has worked for me may not work for the next person. It’s a very personal decision and I partner with my health care providers to determine the proper treatment.”
Since plasma donations are used to develop the “life-sustaining treatment” that provides her body the antibodies it needs to fight off infections, Jolley values and appreciates every plasma donor.
“[Plasma therapy] allows me to be a wife, stepmom and live an active lifestyle in the Pacific Northwest that includes hiking, biking, snowmobiling and more. I’m always a bit speechless when it comes to thanking those who decide to generously donate plasma. ‘Thank you’ doesn’t seem adequate enough, but I can say with each infusion, I’m filled with gratitude and hope for the future.”
How you can help
Friedrich encourages anyone interested in donating plasma to contact the Tukwila BioLife plasma center or visit BioLife’s website to find a center near you.
Donating can be a simple, easy process to undertake. “Eating a well-balanced diet and proper hydration are the simplest things someone can do” to prepare for plasma donation he says.
The demand for plasma is increasing and you have an opportunity to help change lives through plasma donation. To learn more about BioLife Plasma Services, the donation process, and to schedule an appointment, please visit the BioLife website.