My Plasma Donation Nightmare

No — that shouldn’t happen when you donate plasma.

In December 2011 I went to a Grifols, PlasmaCare donation center in Columbus, Ohio. I’d been donating plasma for years during college, and considered it a great source of much-needed disposable income. I was never squeamish about it. (In fact, I still donate plasma twice a week — even despite the experience I’m about to describe).

Giving Plasma is Not Supposed to Hurt

When you give plasma, the most pain you experience lasts for about one second — the stick. It can be pretty uncomfortable, but it’s over in no time. During my donation, I started growing more and more concerned that my arm was in increasingly intense pain. I had to ask the technicians on staff more than once to adjust the needle in my vein because it was hurting so badly. The whole experience was rather disconcerting and made me wonder if I would return to this center.

“You Probably Don’t have AIDS, Right?”…(!)

Each time you donate plasma, you are given a pre-screening questionnaire. This is for the health and safety of the recipients of your bodily fluids. They include questions about your medical history, whether or not you’ve ever tested positive for certain viruses, or have engaged in high-risk behaviors that could make you a carrier for disease even if you haven’t been tested. The questions can be delivered electronically or verbally — at this center they were done verbally with a member of the staff. The technician plays a recording of the questions and you must respond with a verbal “Yes” or “No.” During this donation I was shocked when the technician decided he didn’t want to play the questionnaire for me. “You probably don’t have AIDS…” he said, and skipped to the end. I knew that what he was doing had to be a serious no-no and it made me uncomfortable, but as this was my fourth donation at this location, I knew that my answers would pass the screening and went ahead with the donation. I really wasn’t sure what else to do.

Might Want to Do Something About That Arm…

That same evening I flew to Las Vegas for a business conference I was attending with a friend. My arm was still sore from the donation and I wasn’t able to lift my bag into the overhead compartment because of the pain, which was growing worse. I was wearing long sleeves and didn’t think to inspect my arm for any kind of visible damage or injury. After all, I had donated plasma for years! The soreness would surely go away.

The next day came and the pain was still there. Finally I took off my long-sleeved garment and was shocked — wowed — awed — I had no words for what I saw. My arm was completely full of blood!

I had what is called a hematoma. These can happen frequently when giving plasma. I had never had one before but had friends who did, on a much, much smaller scale (a couple of inches or less in size). Once when I was donating (at a different center besides Grifols’) I had to stop my donation early because the technician saw that a hematoma was about to form. When that happened I had to sign a waiver saying I understood that my donation had been cut short for my own safety. What a stark difference between that experience and what I was looking at in the mirror from the previous day at the Grifols plasma facility. How improperly had that needle been stuck in my arm to make that much blood leak into my tissues?

My friend and I had met a doctor in attendance at the conference, so right away she brought him to my hotel room. He advised me to take a hot bath that night and to keep cold compresses on it during the day. I wondered, though, whether I could be at risk for a blood clot. Being on an airplane can put you at greater risk for blood clots, and so does being on birth control (which I was taking at the time). Since I was in Vegas I couldn’t go back to the PlasmaCare facility to ask for advice or care, so when I woke up with a bloody nose the next morning I panicked and went to the local ER.

Spare Me the Details…

I’ll spare you the details of my ER visit because anyone who’s been there knows that it isn’t a pretty place to be (lying in a cold bed next to vomiting and moaning sick people — wait, sorry, I said I would spare you). I endured more pain in my arm by having it checked for blood clots with an ultrasound. This required applying pressure directly to the hematoma and rubbing the imaging instrument back and forth over my sore tissues. I cried from the pain and I cried from the realization that with my crappy short-term health insurance plan, I had no idea how I was going to pay for this hospital visit.

Thankfully, I had no blood clots to worry about.

When I returned from my trip I immediately walked into the PlasmaCare facility (I had also called them from Las Vegas to make sure the incident had been reported). I showed my arm to the lady at the sign-in desk and said I needed to talk to someone right away. Her eyes got huge and she agreed (which was a contrast from the discourteous and nonchalant attitude the sign-in desk attendant had always given me during my previous visits). She immediately took me to one of the private rooms, and I showed my arm to the center’s manager, nurse, and another technician. Each person that walked into the room had the same reaction — a gasp, a widening of the eyes, and an “Oh my God.”

The manager profusely apologized and told me that Grifols PlasmaCare would take care of all of the medical bills. I also took this opportunity to report what happened before the donation, when the technician failed to play me the health questionnaire and his flippant remark about me not having AIDS. They promised they would deal with that as well.

The (almost) Never-Ending Wait….

When I received my medical bills from the hospital in Nevada, I dropped off the paperwork to the plasma center in person. When asked how long it would take to have them paid (and also to be reimbursed for the $50 copay I had paid), I was never given a straight answer. I was given the same response whenever I phoned them, I was always being told to wait.

In April (four months after the incident) I decided to relocate back to Texas. I visited the plasma center one more time to make sure I had filled out all the paperwork they needed from me before I moved, and asked again when I could expect payment. Again, no one had a clear answer, or they would have to ask the manager and get back to me, which they never did.

Summer came and I began to get frustrated. Bills were outstanding, and no one from Grifols was answering my emails. Finally after sending more strongly-worded emails to everyone at their center’s staff whose email address I could find, I was told I needed to fill out a W-9 and have the providers I visited do the same. I did this for myself and collected them for the hospital and radiology department that I visited.

Months later I was finally contacted by a Grifols employee in California who was working on my case. He was much more helpful than the center’s staff in Columbus and got my paperwork pushed through the channels until finally I got paid. Finally! I could put all this frustration behind me.

Wrong.

This past summer (2014) I got a shocking statement in the mail. It was a notice from a collection agency saying that I had a bill from the hospital in Nevada that was STILL outstanding and had been taken to collections. “WHAT??” I got on the phone right away. After making several calls to investigate how this could be happening, I discovered that the ER and the doctor who treated me in the ER actually had a separate billing system and that there was an outstanding $459 bill that I never knew existed.

Oh Boy, the fun starts again!

I still had the phone number of the Grifols employee in California who had helped me two years ago, so I called him right away and told him what was happening. He told me I needed to get an original, line-item statement from the ER doctor in order for Grifols to pay me. This proved to be a formidable task that took weeks of calling Emergency Medical Physicans’ customer service line, begging them to please send me a statement even though my account had been “archived” — something they claimed made it impossible to send me the original bill. That changed after I hounded them on Twitter and Facebook — I finally got the statement I needed and forwarded it to my contact at Grifols.

Statute of Limitations

However, this time my Grifols contact had some disturbing news for me. He said he’d talked to their legal department and since the statute of limitations for personal injury and medical malpractice in Ohio is two years, Grifols had no legal responsibility to pay for my medical bill.

Seriously? After all this — the frustration, the waiting, the having outstanding medical bills show up on my credit report and bring my credit score down for months and months…not to mention the physical trauma of the injury — you’re seriously just going to say, “Sorry honey, that’s not our problem anymore!”

Seriously???

So I pushed him — I asked him to fight for me to get this taken care of, because it was the morally responsible thing to do. The bill is for $459 — quite a huge expense for single working-girl me, but a drop in the bucket by comparison for a gigantic worldwide corporation like Grifols. They caused the injury, they promised to pay it, and I had never threatened any legal action when the event happened or afterwards.

Despite this, the legal department drafted a nice wordy settlement agreement for me to sign in order to consider paying my bill. I studied the document carefully so I could properly understand my rights, as I have no lawyer and really can’t afford a legal consultation. I felt like the whole thing was really silly and unnecessary anyways, if supposedly I had no legal grounds to sue them since we were beyond the statute of limitations for personal injury. What really made me uncomfortable, however, was that they wanted me to keep the incident confidential.

I wasn’t okay with this. So I created an addendum to the contract that said that I would not be restricted from expressing myself regarding the situation in any way. I knew this would probably cause trouble with Grifols’ legal department and that it would likely be rejected, but I had to try something.

“Out of Compassion to You as Our Donor…”

I sent the settlement agreement in the mail, signed and notarized at Grifols’ request. I was agreeing never to take legal action against them or bring up any other medical bills to them. I was in essence saying, “This is it — this last $459 is all I will ever expect from you.” I wasn’t going to agree to never talk about the situation to anyone. I didn’t think they had the right to expect that from me.

Weeks later, I emailed my contact at Grifols again. “Did you get the agreement?”

He said that yes, they had gotten it (just never bothered to notify me). They had rejected it because of the addendum I added. He reiterated that they thought they had no legal obligation to pay me and had only even considered it “out of compassion” to me as a donor. Yes, they had showed me much compassion up to this point, how heroic of them to do so much.

I wrote him back and told him that it was not agreeable. I included the full details of my story along with the pictures and video of my arm right after the incident. I cc’d that message to Greg Rich, Grifols CEO of North American Operations; Mary Kuhn, President of North American Manufacturing Operations; Joel Abelson, President of North American Commercial Operations; everyone from the PlasmaCare facility in Ohio whose email address I still had, and anyone whose name and @grifols.com email address I could find online.

I sent the email to 45 different email addresses for people at Grifols and not one of them responded to me.

Truly heartwarming compassion.

Grifols’ Statement of Corporate Responsibility

“At Grifols, corporate responsibility encompasses virtually every aspect of how we conduct ourselves as individuals and collectively as a business. By fostering a culture that promotes doing the right thing, Grifols encourages its employees to consider the impact of their actions on patients, the company, the environment, and the communities in which we work and live. Our goal is to build and sustain value for our patients, employees, plasma donors, investors, communities and the company by acting upon our values and adhering to our ethical principles.”

There is nothing ethical or responsible about what Grifols did to me. I hope to warn others not to take the risk.

Note: The images and video of the injured, blood-filled arm are real — those are actually me. The image of the settlement agreement and the screen shot of the email from Grifols are real. The other photos are rights-free stock images for aesthetics purposes only.

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