The first time David Heckel donated blood was November 10, 1967 at Bloodworks Northwest, then known as the King County Central Blood Bank. He had just finished basic training in the U.S. Navy and was home on leave. He had watched his parents regularly donate as he grew up, so it came naturally for him to roll up his sleeve do his part to help save lives in his community.
David continued to regularly donate whole blood until the 1980’s when he learned he could help save even more lives by switching to platelet donation. David selflessly donated platelets every two weeks for the next 20 years. He was even awarded a platinum level certificate for his generous donations: 80 pints of whole blood and 442 platelet donations.
On New Year’s Day 2013, David was on a walk through his neighborhood when he had a seizure and fell and hit his head. Thankfully a neighbor saw what happened and called 911. He was rushed to the emergency department at Evergreen Hospital, where an MRI discovered a tumor on his brain. David spent the next nine days in ICU and underwent two operations to remove the tumor. During his ICU stay he also developed pneumonia, suffered a stroke that paralyzed his left side, and spent time on life support.
During the second operation he lost so much blood that he needed a transfusion. David says,
The blood I received that day was there for me because early that year, someone I don’t know, and can never thank, made it a priority to roll up their sleeve and take a needle. I had given 80 pints of blood. Then, because of the kindness of another donor, when I needed it most, I got one back.
A week after waking up in the ICU David was moved to a rehab facility where an occupational therapist helped him regain use of his arm, and a physical therapist taught him how to walk again. He walked with a cane for a few months until he became strong enough to walk on his own without it. David shared his story at Bloodworks’ 70th Anniversary Celebration, and again at the Seattle Children’s Hospital Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast.
After a 32-year career at Boeing, where he worked with his hands as a technician, David was forced to retire. Although he’s no longer able to donate blood, David finds other ways to continue giving back. Since 2015 he’s been volunteering at Bloodworks’ Bellevue Donor Center. You can find him in the canteen on Thursday mornings where he greets donors and provides refreshments and friendly conversation. He also volunteers on Saturdays with Hospice. He and his wife have two children and 11 grandchildren.
When asked about his selfless dedication to helping others David says, “I get back much more than I give.”
Kim Meeder is a former Bloodworks Donor Representative and current volunteer.