News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 14, 2013

From the heart: Indiana Blood Center honors founder, generous donors

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — “It’s a gift of life,” Larry Hakman said of his reason for regularly donating blood platelets at the Indiana Blood Center in Terre Haute.

“It’s needed by cancer patients, too,” Doris Hakman said.

The Brazil couple were among 24 people honored Friday at the blood center during an appreciation event that featured Al Whitney, founder of Platelets Across America.

Larry Hakman was recognized as the top platelets donor at the blood center, giving 323 units during the past 15 years. He said he got started donating blood during his years of military service, but he made the change to platelets because the need is constant.

“They said they needed platelets, and I was a good bleeder,” Hakman said.

His wife Doris said she has been donating blood since high school, so the switch to platelets was easy to make.

A platelet donation takes about two hours.  An apheresis machine collects platelets and returns the other blood components back to the donor, unlike a blood donation which can take an hour or less.

Platelets are colorless fragments of cells whose main function is to control bleeding. Platelets are often used for cancer treatments, organ transplants and in trauma treatment.

Whitney said it is his goal to get people to donate platelets by getting folks to first donate blood.

He said he started running blood drives in 1965 for his local blood bank in Ohio after he realized following a donation that he could do more to help people. Without knowing the ins and outs of blood drive organizing, he started recruiting donors, and he ended up organizing  regular blood drives every eight weeks for 15 years in his community. He later added a regular Saturday blood drive to the local schedule, an by the time he retired in 2000 he had been organizing 56 blood drives a year for 15 years.

As the year 2000 approached, when uncertainty about the future was a popular topic, Whitney said he decided to collect 2,000 units of blood during that year. By the December blood drive, the 2,000 goal had been surpassed by 65 units.

In 2007 during one of his own regular platelet donations, Whitney said he came up with the idea of donating platelets in all 50 states, and raising awareness of the need for donations. In less than five years, he achieved the 50-state goal, and he has also donated blood in three countries.

“I’m always thinking that I can do more,” Whitney said of his reason for his continued donations. He has returned to 9 different states to donate platelets.

“The hour you spend donating is a lifetime of hours for someone else,” he said of both whole blood and platelet donations.

Whitney said he is a firm believer in recruiting whole blood donors, and then letting the blood centers convert them to platelet donors.

Unlike blood, which can only be donated every 56 days, platelets can be donated 24 times a year. The first two days after a donation, the platelets cannot be used while they are tested, he noted. The next three days is when the platelets are used. They have only a five-day shelf life, but none of them go to waste.

Whitney encouraged the platelet donors to ask their friends, family and even complete strangers to consider donating blood.

“The main reason people don’t donate is because someone hasn’t personally asked them,” he said, encouraging people not to assume that a person won’t want to donate. “Don’t make other people’s decisions. They will come if they’re asked.”

Whitney had also talked to platelet donors in Lafayette on Thursday, and while there, he made his 730th donation.

Of the 24 donors honored in Terre Haute, almost half have donated more than 100 units.

For more information about making a blood or platelet donation, go online to www.indianablood.org.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.