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Published October 11, 2009, 12:00 AM

Ohio man's mission is in his blood

A 71-year-old Ohio man is on a mission to tour the country and donate platelets in each state while encouraging others to donate.

By: Kristen Daum, INFORUM

A 71-year-old Ohio man is on a mission to tour the country and donate platelets in each state while encouraging others to donate.

Al Whitney will make North Dakota his 31st stop on Monday in the tour he’s been pursuing since 2007 to improve the public’s awareness about donating blood and platelets.

“People are fantastic, and we have to educate them,” the retired factory worker said. “We need people to donate to save lives.”

Whitney plans to donate at United Blood Services in Fargo on Monday morning, when he’ll scratch North Dakota off his list.

Whitney has been involved in blood and platelet donations for more than 40 years. He said it started in 1965 when he saw a sign in downtown Cleveland seeking blood donors.

“It just exploded from there,” he said. Since then, Whitney has donated 639 units of platelets.

He’ll drive to Fargo before trekking to Bismarck and Sioux Falls, S.D., by next week. South Dakota will be his 32nd state.

United Blood Services will host an open house Tuesday evening so Whitney can share his story with Fargo-Moorhead residents.

“It’s fun talking with him because he’s so passionate about it,” said Tami Kilzer, United Blood’s donor recruitment supervisor.

Platelets are donated through a process called pheresis, whereby the blood is removed from the body, the platelets are separated out and the blood is returned. The process can take up to 90 minutes, Kilzer said.

Platelets, which help control bleeding, are most commonly used by cancer and leukemia patients and must be used soon after they’re collected.

Blood donations can be used within 42 days, but platelets must be used within five days, which is why United Blood Services needs donors to participate on a regular basis, Kilzer said.

“We need to make sure we use what we have in a certain amount of time, but we need to make sure we replace it,” Kilzer said, adding that she hopes Whitney will inspire more new donors from the area.

Whitney said his tour is about the awareness he brings to others, rather than visiting each state.

“I’m being led,” Whitney said. “Whenever something needs to be done, a door opens and it happens.

“It’s nothing that I’m doing; I’m just a tool being used by somebody better than me.”

    If you go

  • What: Open house featuring platelet donor Al Whitney

  • When: 4:30-7 p.m. Oct. 13

  • Where: United Blood Services, 3231 11th St. S., Fargo

  • Info: (701) 235-3091

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541