Intern Introspective: Plasma Donation Center Tour

Nearing the end of their 10-week internship, La’Brittinee and Paul got an opportunity to tour Grifol’s plasma collection center in Frederick, Maryland. Centers like this collect plasma from donors and then return the red blood cells to the donor in one sitting. The plasma, which undergoes several levels of strict testing, is then pooled and parted out to create many different plasma protein therapy products.
Keep reading to see what La’Brittinee and Paul thought about the facility and how their day unfolded at the center.

Was this your first time visiting a plasma center? What did you expect it to be like?

La’Brittinee: This was not my first time visiting a plasma center, but it was my first time engaging within the plasma center. My frist time visiting was when I went as support for my friend donating plasma and stayed solely in the lobby.
Paul: This was my very first time ever visiting a plasma center. Honestly, I was not sure what to expect. I knew that they collected plasma there, but I was not sure if there were any other processes that were done while at the facility.

What was the plasma center actually like?

La’Brittinee: I expected us to be in a more laboratory setting instead of a donation center. I assumed we would be surrounded by scientists throwing scientific terms and explanations over our heads the entire time.  Instead, we arrived at a donation center very much like the plasma center I’d visited before. We were greeted by some senior corporates in the Grifols community and there was no scientist on site.  We began the tour with an informational video on the foundation of Grifols and then proceeded to a tour of the facility.
Paul: It was a very clean and sterile environment. It was also a very comfortable environment, especially for the donors. The plasma center uses very strict control standards in drawing blood, which I appreciated knowing how thorough they were at collecting.

What surprised you the most? 

La’Brittinee: The most surprising aspect of the tour was learning that they never use first time donor’s plasma. Although they’re always suffering a shortage, quality and safety remains the plasma collector’s biggest priority. This level of integrity to making their products is amazing. 
Paul:  I was shocked to find how many people need to donate to an individual with hemophilia to create just one year’s worth of medication. I believe I was told it takes 1,200 hundred donations to give that individual enough medication for one year. This fact is definitely humbling to know that so many people donate their plasma because they know that people need this to survive. I can not help but feel grateful for the 2,400 people that give my mom and my brother enough medication to live a happy and healthy life every year.

What are some of your biggest takeaways from this trip?

La’Brittinee: Some of my biggest takeaways from this experience was learning how much of a difference plasma donations make in the lives of others. This is not something I was aware of before this tour, but tons of citizens depend on plasma donations to keep living.
Paul: Plasma takes a very long journey from donation to creating a medication that can be administered to a patient. The whole process takes approximately a year long from start to finish, which I found interesting. With the very rigorous and high quality health standards the plasma collection industry holds themselves to, I do not find it surprising at all that it takes so long to deliver a safe product.

Any additional thoughts?

La’Brittinee: The most interesting part of the tour was walking into a -36°C freezer where they keep the plasma. It was the coldest experience of my life and quite refreshing before walking outside into 105° F weather.
Paul:  Plasma, makes up 55% of blood, and from that 55% only 7% make up actual proteins that can be processed and utilized in order to make the factor medications needed by individuals with hemophilia. These proteins are quite literally “liquid gold” as the people at Grifols call it. Because of all these donors and the time that pharma puts into creating medications, thousands of people that suffer with hemophilia no longer have to.
My final thought about this trip is if you ever have the opportunity to go into a freezer that is at -36°C I highly recommend bringing a jacket. Also prepare to feel a slight crunch in your clothes and be ready to have your breath taken away.