Like any other donor, when 73-year-old David Polnaszek shows up at the Stanford Blood Center he must produce a valid ID before being allowed to give blood.
It is, in reality, just a formality.
At this place, everyone from the recptionists to the phlebotimists knows who Polnaszek is. He has, after all, been there 599 previous times.
“It’s something simple you can do, that’s really beneficial,” Polnaszek said.
Polnaszek began donating blood more than 50 years ago as a college freshman at the University of Washington. He has been donating blood and platelets regularly at Stanford Blood Center since the mid-1980’s. That is about the time, Polnaszek said, he saw a board on the wall tracking their most prolific donors.
“I'm a highly competitive person and so it's like, 'Okay, I'm going to get on that board’,” he said. He succeeded in not only getting on the board but rising close to the very top.
For the occasion of Polnaszek’s 600th donation, the blood center hired photographers to capture the moment and brought out a cake to celebrate when it was done.
Polnaszek appreciated the gesture but his favorite part of the whole day was his companion: his 16-year-old granddaughter, Ava, making her very first donation. Even though she said she had an “irrational” fear of needles, Ava wanted to show her support for her grandfather.
“Part of it was really just, I knew it was something that was really important to you,” she said to her grandfather. “I wanted to try it at least once just to have the experience of doing it.”
Polnaszek described him and Ava as very close, seeing each other often after school and for Sunday dinners. Sometimes he would come over with a bandage over his arm, something that Ava said initially caught her attention.
“I think about maybe two years ago or maybe even further is when we first started talking about it,” said Ava.
Clutching onto her mother with one hand and a bandage roll with the other, Ava looked across the room over to her grandfather as the needle was going into her arm during her first donation.
Once they both finished drawing blood, Polnaszek walked over to Ava’s chair and shot his hands up in the air.
“You did it!” he said.
They both sat in the lounge area with the same bandages over their arms, sharing details of what their blood donation experiences were like.
“I can't even comprehend doing that 600 times,” said Ava. “I can’t wrap my brain around it because that’s a lot.”
Though the truth is Polnaszek has likely donated blood more than 600 times throughout his life, it was not until he first arrived at the Stanford Blood Center that he felt truly at home and the hospital began keeping track of his visits.
“I always enjoyed coming in so it was more of a family experience to go, so that really got me,” he said. “Here was something I could do and be of benefit to other people, and at the same time I could get something more out of it.”
As for Ava, she said that after her first experience, she might go for a round two.
“I do think I'm going to do it again,” she said to her grandfather. “ I wanted to try it at least once just to have the experience of doing it and see if it was something I'd want to continue because it's very important to you.”