Shane Larsen was studying music at Tyler Junior College when he took a part-time job to pay the bills at what is now BioLife Plasma Services.
Now, nearly 16 years later, he is center manager at the facility, which sees about 800 plasma donors per week. That's about 3,200 people per month who donate about 2,636 liters of life-saving plasma, he said.
Larsen, 36, of New Chapel Hill, began working at what was Plasma Center Tyler in 1997. “It was a part-time job to help me get through school,” he said. “At first, it was just a check, but it became a passion for what we do.”
Within three years, Larsen became center manager. The plasma collection center has been at 1827 W. Gentry Parkway since it opened in 1989. Plasma Center Tyler was bought by BioLife Plasma Services in 2008. A facility nearly three times larger than its current building is under construction at 332 W. Heritage Drive, next to Kohl's, Larsen said.
BioLife Plasma Services has been in business for more than 10 years as a part of Baxter Healthcare Corp., the principal domestic operating subsidiary of Baxter International Inc.
Through its subsidiaries, Baxter International develops, manufactures and markets products that save and sustain people with hemophilia, immune disorders, infectious diseases, kidney disease, trauma and other chronic and acute medical conditions.
As a global, diversified health care company, Baxter applies a unique combination of expertise in medical devices, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology to create products that advance patient care worldwide, Baxter spokesman Brian Kyhos said. BioLife operates and maintains about 60 plasma collection centers throughout the country, with three in Texas, and collects nearly 3 million liters of plasma per year, he said.
“We are here to collect plasma,” Larsen said. “We supply the raw material.”
The center has 34 employees. He said 50 percent of them are phlebotomists, while the rest are medical supervisors, medical historians and sample prep technicians. They cross-train employees to keep them from becoming bored, he added.
“As we approach September, we will look to expand to 40 (employees). … Once we're in the (new) center, we hope to grow exponentially and hope to hit the 60 mark.”
He said they will be hiring phlebotomists, licensed vocational nurses and paramedics. The current facility allows 41 donors at a time, while the new center will have 72 beds, he said.
“We're limited to the amount of growth we can have here,” he said of the current location. “To be able to grow, we've got to build bigger.”
BioLife broke ground for the 17,500-square-foot facility in September and construction should be completed by late 2013, Kyhos said. The new building will be larger than the average BioLife Center, which is about 15,000 square feet, he added.
BioLife Center locations are chosen for their proximity to a strong donor pool, Kyhos said of why the company is moving the Tyler facility.
The largest demographic the Tyler center sees is 18- to 30-year-olds, while the second most popular group of donors is 31- to 40-year-olds.
“Plasma donors help save lives,” Kyhos said. “BioLife plasma donors mirror the demographics of the different communities in which its centers are located.”
He said the majority of donors come from within a seven-mile radius of the center. In general, the gender ratio is fairly equal.
“Depending on location, students make up between 15 percent to 60 percent of a center's donor base,” he said.
BioLife centers attract a mix of individuals — blue- and white-collar workers, stay-at-home parents, professionals and members of the military — people from all walks of life, Kyhos said.
Donors have varying reasons for giving, including the self-fulfillment of knowing they are helping others and the opportunity to receive extra money. Many BioLife donors come in to donate twice a week as an opportunity to socialize with friends.
According to the Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association, more than 22 million liters of plasma are used worldwide in producing lifesaving medicines, and more than 1 million people around the globe receive plasma therapeutics every year. Each year, BioLife Centers throughout the U.S. collect about 3 million liters of plasma.
Larsen said every donor is screened. He said they look at their medical history and vital signs. The screening process takes about 10 minutes and donating the plasma takes 45 minutes to an hour. He said donors are screened every time, but the process is not as long for regular donors.
He said their research shows the funds people receive for donating plasma are used to support church, civic and charitable organizations and activities, as well as for their families.
BioLife's donation center hours are noon to 7 p.m. Monday, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call 903-592-1144 or visit www.biolifeplasma.com.