Rugby team reaches out

De Wet Willemse, 12, flanked by Blitzbokke Branco du Preez, Siviwe Soyizwapi and captain Philip Snyman.

A 12-year-old boy from Kraaifontein was among a group of young rugby fans who had their dream to meet their rugby heroes realised last week.

De Wet Willemse, from Kraaifontein, has fanconi anemia, a disease that mainly affects the bone marrow and results in decreased production of all types of blood cells.

De Wet’s sister, Karli, 8, saved his life four years ago when she donated bone marrow after his health deteriorated. Their mother, Jonita, said Karli was just 4 months old when she was tested and found to be a perfect match, but she was too young and the doctors wanted to wait until she was 5 years old.

But then De Wet’s health took a turn for the worse, and they had to bring the operation forward.

Karli was 4 years old when she became the youngest bone-marrow donor at Constantiaberg Hospital.

Ms Willemse said she was “blessed” that everything worked out the way it did and that the children were both doing well. She said her son was crazy about rugby.

“He will never be able to play rugby, but he is a great spectator. He knows all the players,” she said.

The teams who came to greet the children at the Cullinan Hotel in the city centre, were participating in the Cape Town Rugby Sevens at the Cape Town Stadium, and the meeting was organised by Warren Solomons, owner of the Massagecru, a Century City-based company contracted to do the team’s massages.

Mr Solomons said coming from the poverty-stricken Manenberg, and being in the position he was in was a privilege, so this year, he decided to give back. He then contacted Reach for a Dream, which helps realise the dreams of children with life-threatening illnesses.

“A lot of these children will never have the opportunity to meet these people, and I felt that I could make it happen. Working with these sports players on an international level was my dream, so I wanted to make someone else’s dream come true.

“Reach for a Dream was always an organisation close to my heart, so I reached out to them,” he said.

On Monday December 3, five little boys anxiously waited until the rugby players were done with their massages before the stars came to chat to the children and sign balls, sweaters, shorts and other items that the children had brought along.

Cole McLeod, 11 and Connor McLeod, 13, from Belhar, came dressed in their SA Rugby gear.

Connor said he was very excited to meet the Blitzbokke. “We love sport, and our favourite sport is rugby.”

Cole was too shy to speak but showed his excitement by smiling broadly. the brothers are radio sports reporters at RX Radio, The Red Cross Children’s Hospital radio station for children, by children.

Rameez Gabier, 12, came all the way from Vredenburg to meet the players. “I am so happy. This is the first time I am meeting famous people,” said a shy Rameez.

Hugh Everson, the SA Rugby Sevens team’s physiotherapist, said the meeting was an awesome initiative.

“These players have a busy schedule, but they will always make time to meet their young fans — it’s no effort for them.

“After all, it is through public support that they get a platform to do what they do.”

Christelle Gantz, a volunteer at Reach for a Dream, added: “De Wet’s dream was to meet SA Rugby player Bryan Habana.This really helped them forget their troubles and health issues for a day.”

Another volunteer, Eleanor Pretorius, said any terminally ill child between the ages of 3 and 18 years old qualifies to have a dream come true through the organisation.

“It’s so heartwarming because we find that these children don’t even want big things. One wanted a Barbie with red hair, and another just wanted to bake cookies.”