Two men donate combined 1,400 blood platelet units

Al Whitney, 77, hit the 750 mark. He has been donating blood since 1965, but began donating solely platelets in the late ’60s.

Throughout the 2000s, Whitney donated platelets in all 50 states in five years. He said his first time donation sparked his passion for blood donation.

“I heard, ‘Al, you can do more than this,’” said Whitney, a Cleveland native.

Patients receiving platelets are typically being treated with cancer therapies or are undergoing a transplant and have weakened immune systems.

Since that first donation, Whitney started Platelets Across America, which raises awareness to encourage people to donate platelets and whole blood. Wherever he speaks, he donates platelets as well.

When asked to name the most important thing about donating, Whitney had a simple answer.

“You go walk through a cancer ward and then ask me that,” he said.

Whitby Joyner, a Chapel Hill resident who donated his 650th unit, began donating in 1999 when a recruiter contacted him.

“Once I started doing something that helps people and doesn’t put me out too much, why stop doing it?” he said.

Joyner said he was in a car accident in 1994, when someone donated blood and saved him. The kindness made him want to do the same.

“I wanted to be there for someone else,” he said.

Tom Neish, supervisor at the UNC Blood Donation Center, met Joyner in 2007.

Neish recounted a time when a patient responded only to Joyner’s specific platelets — Niesh said Joyner came in several times to donate just for that patient.

“He’s helped so many patients, it’s unbelievable,” Neish said.

Neish, a regular donor himself, said platelet units go primarily to leukemia and lymphoma patients, though they can also go elsewhere. He said one platelet donation can help up to three people and emphasized the need for donors.

“We supply only about half of what the UNC system needs as far as platelets,” he said.

Whitney stressed how the simple act of asking a person to donate often works.

“If I can get one new donor, my trip is a success,” he said.

Dr. Marshall Mazepa, the medical director at the Blood Donation Center, said long-term donors often put newer donors at ease.

“Their platelets are just as good as first-time donors,” he said.

He also said the Blood Donation Center relies a lot on the students and mentioned that donation centers on college campuses are somewhat rare.

Despite the impressive number of times both men had donated, Mazepa said it’s not possible for everyone to give platelets that often.

“It’s really wonderful that people are willing to donate this frequently,” he said.

Bridgit Schmidt, secretary at the Blood Donation Center, praised the center and its staff and said working there was a wonderful experience.

“We get to be a part of the entire process,” she said.

Whitney also expressed his affection toward employees at donation centers around the world.

“The finest people in the world donate and work at blood banks.”

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