By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer
Have you ever set a goal and reached it? How about doubling the goal and reaching that?
Now, how about knowing that in reaching those goals you’ve saved or improved the quality of life for hundreds of men, women and especially children?
Al Whitney knows that feeling: He’s donated platelets – the part of blood that creates clotting – in all 50 states. Twice! Oh, and in Canada and Australia for good measure.
“When people ask me why I do this, I just tell them, ‘You go and walk through a cancer ward and then come back and ask me why I do it’,” he said. “You’re not donating blood. You’re donating life.”
The spry 84-year-old began his life-saving career in 1965, when he saw a big Red Cross sign in downtown Cleveland that said, “Donate blood.” So he did. When he walked out, he was inspired: “Al, you can do more.”
So he started organizing regular blood drives in Avon Lake, his home town, while continuing to donate blood himself, every 56 days.
Sometime in the late 1970s or early ‘80s, he switched to donating platelets, which are always in short supply because that blood component only has a shelf life of five days. Every 15 seconds, someone with cancer, chronic disease or traumatic injuries needs platelets.
In the process of platelet donation, the blood clotting portion of whole blood is “spun” out and the rest of the blood is returned to the donor; typically, the body replaces its platelets in 24-36 hours. The FDA allows platelet donors to give 24 times a year.
In the fall of 2007, Al challenged himself to donate platelets in every state. It took him five years to reach that goal. “Al, you can do more,” whispered in his ear again. So he set out to double the feat. He hit that target in March this year, when he made a donation in Albuquerque, N.M.
“Sometimes people will tell me, ‘I don’t like needles’,” Al said. “I tell them, ‘I know how you feel. But think of that little boy in the cancer ward. Do you think he likes needles?’ ”
As of his most recent donation, on April 21, Al has given 983 units. “God willing, I’ll make it to 1,000,” he said. He looks forward to hitting that milestone this fall, at the Red Cross donation center in Cleveland.
To learn more about donating platelets through the American Red Cross, visit https://www.redcrossblood.org/donate-blood/how-to-donate/types-of-blood-donations/platelet-donation.html
Editor’s Note: The Red Cross currently has an emergency need for platelets and type O blood, as hospital demand for these products continues to outpace donations. Over the last year, the Red Cross has collected over 1 million units of platelets, and nearly half of those have been provided to patients undergoing cancer treatment. More platelet donors are needed to continue to meet these needs.