Web-posted Thursday, January 25, 2007
By Jim McBride
Donors pack the lobby at Biomat USA’s plasma donor center almost daily in Amarillo, waiting to trade their blood plasma for a few dollars.
Biomat is a subsidiary of Grifols, a Spanish holding company specializing in the hospital and pharmaceutical industries. It collects blood plasma from donors at its Amarillo facility at 520 S.W. 10th Ave.
Spokesman Chris Healey said Biomat relies on repeat donors who provide blood plasma and carefully tracks them to make sure its blood products are safe.
If a donor comes in only once and doesn’t come in for another appointment, that donor’s plasma is tossed out.
“These people who donate plasma and who work at the centers are life-saving, life-changing.”
Kathy Antilla, director of education for the Immune Deficiency Foundation
“We don’t pay for their plasma. We compensate them for the time they spend in our facility. If they are donating plasma on a regular basis, we compensate them for that time,” he said.
Biomat’s plasma donors must fill out a detailed form and answer a series of questions about their health and personal history. They also must have a physical exam, follow special dietary regimens and comply with other instructions before they can donate.
Most donations take about 45 minutes. A staffer inserts a needle into the donor’s arm, which is hooked up to sterile, disposable tubing and a centrifuge.
“It will take out a volume of roughly a coffee cup of the blood, spin it down, we collect what we want and it returns the red blood cells through the same needle line back to the individual, pulls it out again, separates and does that process until we accumulate the weight that we need,” said Facility Manager Gordon Woods Jr.
The center has about 25 employees and pumps about $1.2 million a year in donor fees, taxes and employee salaries into the Amarillo economy, Woods said.
Biomat USA facilities nationwide generate about 1.5 million liters of plasma every year, enough to fill nearly two Olympic-size swimming pools.
The plasma can be turned into several products.
Biomat also tests donations for viruses and other impurities before its products are frozen and shipped to anywhere from California to Spain.
“The donor is actually paid cash at the end of their donation for their time. It’s very simple, quick, and we have the purity and the safety to follow it up and make sure that that product that’s going into another human being is the best on the market,” he said.
A donor can give plasma up to twice a week and can earn up to $240 a month.
Healey said paying people to donate ensures they come back and gives them an incentive to remain healthy.
It also helps keep adequate blood products in supply.
“If there weren’t compensated donors, there wouldn’t be enough plasma therapies for sick people who need them,” he said.
Human plasma is used to make life-saving medicines to treat rare diseases, such as hemophilia, primary immune deficiencies, genetic emphysema and shock, trauma or burns.
A major plasma product is known as IVIG, or intravenous immune globulin. It’s a blood product that helps patients with immune deficiencies.
“That product is extracted from the plasma that we collect at the plasma centers like the one in Amarillo. It’s one of the main medicines we take out of the plasma,” Healey said. “Without this medicine, patients get sick; they get all kinds of infections, and they can die.”
Kathy Antilla, director of education for the Immune Deficiency Foundation in Maryland, said plasma products that come from facilities like Biomat in Amarillo help patients whose bodies cannot make antibodies needed to fight off disease.
Antilla said her son, now 15, first began receiving intravenous plasma products about 10 years ago. He receives an intravenous infusion of plasma about every two weeks that replaces certain blood cells and gives him the antibodies he needs.
“As parents, we saw the change in him from the first infusion. All of a sudden he stopped coughing all night long, stopped vomiting when he ran, and there was a sparkle in his eye,” she said. “These people who donate plasma and who work at the centers are life-saving, life-changing.”
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