WESLEY CHAPEL — In his lifetime, Larry Jasper has given more than 54 gallons of his blood, enough to fill a bathtub.
Jasper is 60 years old and spent 30 years in the Army, beginning with a tour in Vietnam and then in stations throughout the world. He retired in 1997 and, four years ago, moved with his wife and children to Land O'Lakes, where he coaches Little League. On Tuesday, Jasper donated platelets inside a Bloodmobile in Wesley Chapel. He looked confused when asked why he does this.
"It's something I do because there is a need for it," he said.
Dan Eberts, a communications manager with Florida Blood Services, calls people like Jasper "quiet heroes." He's known people who have given more than 100 gallons.
Florida Blood Services is a nonprofit organization that provides blood (which can mean whole blood, red blood cells, platelets or plasma) to patients at 37 hospitals in Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee and Polk counties. The organization needs about 900 donations a day.
One of the fastest growing donor centers is in a Wesley Chapel shopping plaza on the corner of State Road 54 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. Donations have increased by 10 percent in the past year, Eberts said.
Because of that increase, the center is expanding and will be closed for renovations until Sept. 14. There will be more beds and a larger waiting room and canteen, where donors get free food after giving blood.
In the meantime, a Bloodmobile is in the parking lot to keep the donations coming.
This Bloodmobile is the newest and best in the organization's fleet. It can take donations of whole blood, plasma, platelets or red blood. Some people who are seriously ill — those undergoing organ and bone marrow transplantation, infants in neonatal intensive care, for instance — need specific blood components. Now, the organization can tailor donations to what is needed most on that day.
Because of increased safety restrictions, only about 37 percent of the population can give blood, Eberts said. For instance, a person who has traveled to a country with a high risk of malaria cannot donate for three years after returning to the United States. A person who has gotten a tattoo or a piercing has to wait one year.
But, of those eligible, only about 5 percent donate. Many people who think they can't give blood because of health conditions or medications usually can, Eberts said. Generally, people can give blood if they are 16 years old (with a parental permission) and weigh at least 110 pounds.
Eberts said reaching young people is crucial because most people do not give blood for the first time later in life. The organization is reaching out to these people in new ways through MySpace, Facebook and YouTube videos. Eberts even made a rap video (which can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLcHyHPiTus .)
Mike Greth, who is 26 and just moved to Wesley Chapel from Pennsylvania a few weeks ago, drove around Tuesday looking for a place to get his hair cut and saw the Bloodmobile.
"I should do this," he thought, and then parked his car and went inside the bus.
Donations from Bloodmobiles account for about 80 percent of the blood inventory, Eberts said. But high gas prices are putting a squeeze on the organization.
Marla Grant, director of communications for the Florida Blood Services Foundation, said they use about 6,000 gallons of diesel fuel each month. Much of that is because, when parked, the buses continue running so their equipment can work. And this also includes the vehicles that transport the blood to patients.
"I don't like to use the word 'crisis,' " Grant said. "But, it's been a stretch. Like everyone, we are feeling the pinch."
Jasper does his best to help spread the word.
"You can do all the advertising you want, but most people won't do something unless they are personally asked," he said. "So I ask."
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4609.