Most Tuesdays and Fridays, 25-year-old Hector Rodriguez can be found in ZLB Plasma Services or one of the many blood donation centers in the Twin Cities. Rodriguez doesn’t donate his blood or plasma to save lives, though. He does it to save money on alcohol.
"As soon as the needle’s out of my arm, I’m out the door," Rodriguez said. "The rest of the night’s a good one."
If he’s donated plasma that week, Rodriguez, who is unemployed, collects his $35 and heads to the nearest liquor store. If he’s donated blood he usually meets up with his friends at a bar, he said.
Rodriguez isn’t the only one who uses this technique; some University students also see the life-saving donations as a quicker and cheaper way to get drunk.
As a first-year student, Sarah Puppe, now a nursing senior, donated plasma twice a week at ZLB Plasma Services on Washington Avenue Southeast, because she would be paid sometimes as much as $50, she said.
Twice that year she drank the same night she gave plasma. She once blacked out after about three drinks, she said.
"I don’t remember anything," she said. "I opened my eyes in a bathroom on the West Bank, and I was puking. I don’t remember anything from the hour to an hour-and-a-half long walk home."
Puppe said she tried to avoid drinking on the same nights she donated.
But when she mentioned the effect alcohol had on her after donating, many of her friends started to do the same: donate then drink, she said.
Mary Roske-Grothe, a therapist at Boyton’s Mental Health Clinic, said students often engage in alcohol-abusive behavior such as donating blood or plasma and then drinking because many of their friends do it.
"This is someone whose drinking is not about being social; it’s not about the taste, it’s not about enhancing a positive atmosphere. It’s just to get intoxicated," she said. "They need to realize that this is a self-defeating behavior; this is abusive."
Dr. Gary Bachowski of the Red Cross said donating and drinking doesn’t fit with the philosophy of giving blood to those in need.
"It’s our policy to collect blood from donors who really don’t have any other reason to give other than that it’s a good thing to do," he said.
If donors aren’t completely honest about their motivation to give blood, the Red Cross can’t assure recipients the blood is safe, he said.
Donating and then drinking can also be dangerous, Bachowski said. When a person donates blood, a tenth of his or her blood volume is removed, he said. In an average man, that equals about a pint of blood.
Donating alone can cause dehydration, but adding alcohol to the mix increases the effect, he said. Dehydration can cause dizziness, fainting and vomiting, which can lead to further dehydration.
In some cases, donors have to be hooked up to IV fluids. And giving plasma has similar effects because it thins blood, he said.
The Red Cross and other blood donation centers display alcohol warnings on their Web sites and in the information they give to donors.
Sonya Williams, corporate communications spokeswoman for ZLB Plasma Services, said the company warns its donors of potential side effects before and after drawing plasma. The company also instructs donors not to drink alcohol after giving plasma.
Now that Puppe works as a nurse, she said she realizes how harmful donating and then drinking is on a person’s body.
"You should stay at your house and be with people you trust, but the best advice I can give is just don’t drink after you donate," Puppe said.
"You might try to drink to the same limit you normally would, and there’s just not enough blood in your system to absorb that."
Despite possible medical risks, Rodriguez said he will continue to donate blood and plasma and then drink.
"I don’t really see a problem with it," Rodriguez said. "They’re getting their blood and stuff, and I’m saving money. Nobody’s getting hurt."