Durban teen Robbie Eddles, 17, urgently needs a bone marrow transplant.
Durban teen Robbie Eddles, 17, urgently needs a bone marrow transplant.
Matrics at Clifton School in Morningside put their support behind Robbie, having swabs taken to see if any could be a matching donor. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)
Matrics at Clifton School in Morningside put their support behind Robbie, having swabs taken to see if any could be a matching donor. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Durban - A desperate call to save a Durban teen has seen an overwhelming response from Durbanites.

This week 17-year-old Robbie Eddles was fighting for his life after a relapse with leukaemia and it has become a race against time to find a matching bone marrow donor. Robbie is in an isolation ward in a Durban hospital.

On Thursday, his mother Colleen briefly stepped from her son’s side to visit his school, Clifton College in Morningside, where many pupils lined up to be tested to see if any were potential donors to save their friend’s life.

An emotional Colleen said Robbie was “blown away by the overwhelming support” since the call went out among his family and friends and on social media platforms, saying that he urgently needed to find a donor. 

Colleen said: “Robbie doesn’t want this to be just about him, but about anyone who needs to find a bone marrow donor match. We want to thank everyone out there who has come out in support.”

Swabs taken would be sent to the SA Bone Marrow Registry to check for a match.

Robbie was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was 5 years old. He relapsed when he was 10, with the third relapse having just happened. His bone marrow is now 90% leukemic and the need to find a donor is urgent.

Rushing to get back to the hospital to be by her son’s bedside, Colleen said: “Robbie is also aware of the desperate need for more donors for all races and would like all South Africans to come forward and register as a possible donor match.”

Also at the school on Thursday, his older sister Gillian, who was working overseas, but returned to be with her family during this anxious time, said: “Robbie is so amazing. He’s very resilient and when this relapse happened, he immediately said he was going to fight this. 
“It was very hard when he was first diagnosed, but the third time has been a huge hit on the family. We are determined that Robbie is going to get better.”

She said the family were grateful for the reaction to their call for help. “There have been a lot of different schools and people around Durban who have been in contact about doing a drive,” she said.  “People see Durban as a sleepy town, but Durbanites are so good at rallying together,” said Gillian.

Robbie’s aunt, Kerry Moller, who had flown up from Cape Town on Wednesday night to bring the swabs needed to take samples, said they had an estimated 6 500 applications in five days. 

“We have had such a response. If people want to register, I will make sure swabs are sent to Durban. I have also had calls from New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Wales and Australia. We want to grow the registry so more people will be helped.”

Yesterday, spokesman for the SA Bone Marrow Registry, Nadia Chalkley, confirmed that the number of applications had hit the 7 000 mark, saying they had never seen such a surge of applications.  “There has been a very big response. We have literally tripled our number of applications in the last week. There has been such a big influx, we are bringing in more volunteers on Monday to help process all the applications.”

Chalkley said there was still a desperate need to expand the database to have enough representation across all demographics. 

The registry has World Marrow Donor Association qualification status and can source donors worldwide, while international bone marrow associations can also access the South African database to try to find a match. In countries such as America, which has a large African American population, they will search for a match with African heritage in databases such as South Africa’s. 

Clifton School’s spokesperson, Carol de Matteis, said they were also overwhelmed by the response from students and parents. “His plight has touched the hearts of many at Clifton and we are acutely aware that he is fighting a battle no youngster should have to face. We look forward to having him back with us as soon as possible,” De Matteis said.

To register as a donor, the process involves completing an application form and then having a swab done, which is processed and the results put on the registry. If you are a match, it will mean a morning visit to the hospital when blood is taken. 
To become a donor or find out more, visit www.sabmr.co.za or www.robbieeddles.co.za.

The Independent on Saturday