DOVER -- Since Al Whitney of Avon Lake first became a blood donor more than a half century ago, he's rolled up his sleeve to make the 'gift of life' hundreds of times.

These days, Whitney has become an advocate for donation of blood platelets.

His visit and platelet donation at the Blood Donor Room at Union Hospital was made to raise public awareness of this important program.

Whitney's remarkable journey as an advocate for donation of blood and platelets has led him to donate in 46 states with a goal to donate platelets in all 50 states.

Whitney, age 74, first donated blood in 1965 in response to a blood drive in downtown Cleveland. He hasn't stopped since.

"When I left that donation site, I thought to myself, 'I can do more than this,'" he said.

In the early 1970s, Whitney began donating platelets, the clotting agent in blood that helps control bleeding. Platelets are crucial to many cancer treatments, trauma patients, and transplant recipients. In 2007, Whitney again felt compelled to "do more." He founded the non-profit organization, Platelets Across America, to raise awareness of the need for whole blood and platelets. He also set a personal goal to donate platelets in all 50 states.

"People ask me why I do it," said Whitney. "My answer is, walk into a cancer ward and then ask me why I do it."

Whitney's trip to West Virginia earlier in the week was his 47th state visited for platelet donation.

Montana and Wyoming will follow with his 50th and final stop in Hawaii in June.

His travels, funded solely by his social security income, are all business and rarely involve any sightseeing.

"Getting the word out and organizing blood drives keeps me very busy on these trips," he said. "I really don't have time to be a tourist."

One exception to that rule came at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

"I was in the Mr. Rushmore gift shop, wearing my Platelets Across America logo jacket. A woman in the gift shop suddenly came over and gave me a big hug. She said, "It's because of you that I'm alive today!'"

In addition to his many hundreds of blood and platelet donations, Whitney has recruited thousands of others to become blood donors.

"The majority of people agree to become a donor as a result of a personal request," he said. "I encourage folks to take a half hour and save someone's life. Let a dad walk his daughter down the aisle. Let a baby have a birthday.

Let a mother see her son graduate.

One blood donation has the potential to save three lives and goes on to positively impact the lives of countless loved ones and friends."

Like blood donors, platelet donors must be at least 17 years of age, in good health, and weigh at least 110 pounds.

Platelet donors must not have taken aspirin, anti-inflammatory medication or products containing aspirin less than 48 hours prior to the donation. Platelets can be donated every 14 days while whole blood donors must wait at least 56 days.

The Blood Donor Room at Union Hospital is open Tuesday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Fridays to 4:30 p.m.

No appointment is required but donors may call ahead to see if there is a wait.

To find out more about being a platelet or whole blood donor at Union Hospital, call the Blood Donor Room at (330) 343-3311, ext. 2294.

Whitney's website for Platelets Across America is www.plateletsacrossamerica.org.