Meet Durban’s superhero blood donors

DONOR ‘superhero’ Dudley Stilwell, 78, from Glenwood, receives his certificate marking his 450 donations at the Musgrave Road blood bank. | SHELLEY KJONSTAD

DONOR ‘superhero’ Dudley Stilwell, 78, from Glenwood, receives his certificate marking his 450 donations at the Musgrave Road blood bank. | SHELLEY KJONSTAD

Published Dec 3, 2023


Durban — Superheroes don’t always wear capes – and they become even more important as we enter the busy festive season.

Take Durban’s Bob de Villiers, 83, and Dudley Stillwell, 78, for example: the two men have probably saved hundreds of lives in their 45 years of giving blood.

Last weekend the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) honoured them and the many other brave men and women who freely give a pint of love to ensure that lives are saved or improved every day. The service says one whole blood donation can save up to three people’s lives.

Durban South SANBS donor relations practitioner Msimelelo Lose said the awards ceremony was to recognise the 65 people who had reached the 50-donation milestone, as well as every 25th interval thereafter, between July 2020 and June 2021.

Stillwell has given 450 pints, Stuart Kennard 250 and Robert “Bob” de Villiers 225.

“We had remarkable milestone donors, but all our donors are remarkable people because they save lives,” said Lose.

The Independent on Saturday spoke to Stillwell and De Villiers, who both started their donations “in the old Transvaal” before moving to KwaZulu-Natal.

Both men have wives who are terrified of needles but always remind them when it is time to donate.

De Villiers, who lives in eManzimtoti, is a former mine worker who was encouraged to be a donor by his late brother-in-law, Andries Hartzenberg, in 1964, and has a collection of Parker pens from the SANBS for all the milestones he’s reached.

“When I got that standing ovation on Saturday it was one of the best moments in my life because I thought there are people who recognise that there are others who do good in the world and not everyone is a criminal or a thief. Among all people there is good.

“It’s like that Cadbury’s ad on TV: there’s a glass of good in everyone,” he said.

BOB de Villiers, 83, from eManzimtoti, with the medal he earned for donating 225 pints of blood. | SHELLEY KJONSTAD

De Villiers has had many strange encounters over the years; like the woman who shunned him for being from the “vampire club” when she saw his SANBS badge. Or the time when he walked kilometres in the hot sun to get to the donation booth only to find it had temporarily relocated, and he had to walk even farther to get there.

He’s also endured racist insults by people who questioned why he was a donor when he had no idea who would get his blood.

Stillwell is a handyman who lives in Glenwood and has been a donor since he turned 18.

“My dad, my two brothers and I signed up at the same time. We just decided to give blood and I never stopped,” he said.

An avid sportsman in his younger days, Stillwell says over the years his body had got into the rhythm of donations and when he stops he gets migraines.

“What do I really do in the world? Giving a little blood is not much out of me but it can help a lot of people.

“A nurse also told me my blood is very precious because I’m O positive and almost everyone needs it,” he said.

Lose said apart from whole blood, donors can give other blood products like source plasma, platelets, plasma apheresis and platelet apheresis.

The SANBS made an urgent appeal for donors this week as its stocks were critically low and currently sitting at just over a day’s supply.

“The demand for blood remains constant, yet our current supply falls short of meeting this ongoing need. In December, our donations are expected to decline as workplaces and schools and tertiaries close for the holidays.

“Should this decline continue, our ability to meet the needs of patients will be severely negatively impacted,” said Thandi Mosupye, SANBS senior manager for marketing, communication and brand.

Earlier this year Mosupye appealed for more donors, saying only 1% of the population were registered donors. She said donating blood only took 30 minutes and donors should be between the ages of 16 and 75, weigh more than 50kg and be in good health.

For more information you can contact the SANBS on 0800 11 9031 or follow its official social media platforms: Twitter (@theSANBS); Facebook (@SANBS) and Instagram (@thesanbs).

Independent on Saturday