Len Corneto

Len Corneto has donated plasma 1,500 times since 2003. Corneto is pictured with his wife Leah with the Betty Boop stature he bought her with money earned from donating blood plasma. (Courtesy photo)

LYNDEN — It’s been nearly 18 years since Len Corneto donated plasma for the first time.

It was in 2003 when the Lynden man wanted to get a gift for his wife. But he had recently been laid off from his job.

“I saw a BioLife ad to donate blood plasma,” he said recently. “I figured it was a nice way to make some money.”

A few donations later, Corneto had the money he needed to buy his wife the Betty Boop statue that adorns their home.

That was 1,500 donations ago. 

“Donating plasma forces you to take care of yourself,” Corneto said. “It’s also a good way to give back to the community.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a decrease in blood plasma donations, said Alicia Highlander, communications lead for BioLife Plasma Services.

“The need for plasma is more urgent than ever,” Highlander said. “Plasma donations received at BioLife centers are used to make established therapies that treat a range of rare and chronic complex diseases including immunodeficiency disorders. Many of these conditions have no alternative treatments.”

Although Corneto is not a doctor – he’s an insurance man by trade – he’s learned that blood type is not critical when donating blood plasma.

“When you’re hooked up to the machine, the blood plasma is separated from the red blood cells,” Corneto said. “Then the red blood cells are returned to you. That’s why you can donate as much as you can.”

Donors can give blood plasma twice in a week. According to Highlander, the body “quickly replaces the plasma removed during the donation process, which allows healthy individuals to donate as often as twice in a seven-day period, with at least one day between donations.”

For Corneto, it’s usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays that he can be found at the BioLife in Bellingham. Before his donations, he likes to eat a can of tuna. 

“The critical level for a lot of men is the protein level,” Corneto said. “Just because you walk through the door doesn’t mean you’ll be able to donate.”

There have been several times that Corneto has not been able to donate plasma because his protein levels weren’t where they needed to be.

“I just go back the next day,” he said. “Nobody can say they always have donated. It’s just not going to happen.”

Once the needle is in, Corneto said the donation takes about an hour.

“Some people can be done way before that,” Corneto said. “It also depends on how much you’re donating.”

Highlander explained that including physical examination, medical screening and the plasma donation, a donor’s first visit usually takes about two hours.

Blood plasma donors must be at least 18 years of age, weigh at least 110 pounds and pass all other required donor eligibility criteria, including a physical examination at their first visit and screenings at future visits.

Visit biolifeplasma.com for more information.

At 64 years old, Corneto said he’d like to get to 2,000 donations by the time he hits 70.