January 22, 2018

DAYTON, Ohio - Community Blood Center is on a mission in 2018 to recruit more platelet and plasma donors, and there may no greater champion of the cause than "Platelets Across America" founder Al Whitney. 

Al roamed the country in his RV from 2007 to 2012, donating platelets in every state.  The Cleveland native first visited CBC in 2008 during his "Platelets Across America" tour. He's back on the road for a second round, and included a return trip to the Dayton CBC. 

On his Jan. 5 visit to CBC he made his 874th lifetime blood donation. His total is a combination of 834 platelet donations and 40 whole blood donations. He's now halfway through his second round of donating in every state.

"I kept calling blood centers and going again," he said. "I didn't set a goal. But about six months ago I thought I could do a second time. I already had a bunch done and decided I would continue. Now I'm at 25."

At age 80, the tour is more than a bucket list itinerary. "It's not just me going around giving platelets," said Al. "It's me convincing people to be blood donors."

Many of CBC's most dedicated platelet and plasma donors are of Al's generation. About 53 percent of the CBC donor base is over the age of 50.  The blood components of platelets and plasma are essential clotting mechanisms for the human body and can only come from volunteer donors through the process of apheresis.  They are vital for the treatment of cancer patients and emergency room patients.

Enlisting blood donors is Al's calling. He coordinated weekly blood drives for 15 years in his hometown of Avon Lake.  He donated the equivalent of five gallons of whole blood before becoming an apheresis donor. "I do platelets because I can give 24 times a year," said Al. 

He's seen the technology change and has become a student of the procedure. He travels with meticulously kept records of his donations, including platelet counts and eligibility status.  Less experienced phlebotomists might find themselves getting tutoring tips from Al throughout the donation.

"I don't walk in and say, 'Here I am, wonderful me,'" said Al. "I call, introduce myself, let them know about me. The door is open."

His last out-of-state donation was in St. Louis on Dec. 28. He'll wait until spring before adding Washington to his second "Platelets Across America" tour.  Across the miles from blood bank to bank, he has a simple explanation for what keeps him going:

"Somebody that's in the hospital that needs blood," said Al. "Walk through a cancer ward and you'll see what I mean."