Mary Brount of Gurnee (left) gets ready to donate plasma with the help of Kenyetta Foxie of Waukegan a donor processor with Talecris Plasma Resources on Grand Avenue in Waukegan. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Talecris Plasma Resources
2609 Grand Ave., Waukegan
Updated: January 1, 2012 1:44AM
WAUKEGAN — The steady stream of plasma donors who stretch out their arms and give charge of their blood to Talecris Biotherapeutics are not necessarily thinking about the people who could die if they didn’t.
“It’s quick cash,” one donor said cheerfully. “You can pay your telephone bill. Buy gas.”
The man, who was not authorized by Talecris to speak, reclined among rows of other donors on Monday at the company’s Plasma Resources center in Waukegan. He was hooked to a Haemonetics PCS2, the machine that separates the yellowish plasma — in a process called plasmapheresis — from the red-and-white blood cells, platelets and antibodies that hitch a ride in the liquid.
Another donor, Mary Brount of Gurnee, a divorced mom of two who works as a teacher’s aide, watched serenely as a grinning phlebotomist swabbed the hard spot on the crook of her left arm and nudged-in a 17-gauge needle.
“It’s cash, it’s tax free, it definitely helps,” Brount said of the pay for a part-time job that requires good veins, a sparkling health history and blood that can pass a battery of tests mandated by the Food and Drug Administration.
Brount, 50, has earned about $200 a month for the past four years by parting with 690 milliliters of plasma twice a week. Heavier people donate more for the same rate of pay. Introductory and occasional bonuses help attract and keep a reliable workforce.
Bob Robinson, executive director of the Bleeding Disorders Alliance Illinois, said companies like Talecris “go above and beyond” FDA regulations in the collection of plasma — which is distilled for use in the manufacture of lifesaving treatments for people who suffer from immune system deficiencies, injuries including severe burns, and products that treat and prevent diseases like tetanus, rabies and hepatitis B.
“You can donate it for free, but it takes some time, some commitment and comprehensive screening,” Robinson said. “The products are so critical, the kindness of strangers isn’t enough.”
Celeste Morris of Chicago, relied on plasma to treat Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic condition that causes lung disease.
“For a lot of chronically ill people, these donors and donor centers help bridge the gap,” said Morris, 57, who received a lung transplant a year ago.
Brount said that while she likes helping people who need plasma to survive, she probably wouldn’t donate as often if not for the cash.
“I’d still go once a week,” she said.
The Talecris center in Waukegan draws people from all walks of life, said manager Rhonda Johnson.
“They’re doing a good deed, we’re doing a good deed,” she said.
Rick McLaughlin of Waukegan was surprised to learn that plasma donors get paid. He uses a plasma-based product about four times a year to treat hemophilia.
“I don’t think people getting compensated should be seen as a bad thing,” said McLaughlin, 45. “Pharmaceutical companies make millions and millions off the products.”
Top manufacturers of plasma-derived therapies include Deerfield-based Baxter International, CSL Behring and Grifols SA.
Grifols, headquartered in Barcelona, Spain, recently acquired Talecris. Baxter leads the blood therapeutics industry with a reported $5.3 billion in annual U.S. sales. Grifols claimed $450 million in U.S. sales before adding Talecris’ $1.1 billion in revenue.