Written in Blood


Every eight weeks like clockwork, Dennis Kahlberg enters the blood transfusion clinic near his home in Johannesburg, South Africa to donate a unit of blood.

This spring, after 53 years of donating, Kahlberg gave his 300th unit, totaling 142 liters — or 28 times the amount of blood found in a human body. Kahlberg was originally inspired to donate by his father, who donated more than 150 units in his lifetime.

“It’s a wonderful way of saving lives,” said Kahlberg. “To me, it was always my way of doing my share for charity.”

For his achievement, Kahlberg was awarded a medal by the South African Blood Transfusion Services, and the Linksfield SABTS clinic’s blood crew bought him a bottle of sparkling wine. It’s believed that Kahlberg has cracked at least the Top 5 in whole blood donations for his region.

“It’s healthy too, I think. If the rabbis in the Gemarah did it, it should be good,” he said.

Kahlberg’s 300th donation came on March 10, his eldest son Hilton’s birthday. The timing was fitting, as Hilton, inspired by his father, donates plasma in his home city of Melbourne, Australia.

“It’s fantastic,” Hilton said of his father’s milestone. “My father doesn’t do it for recognition. He does it to help people.”

“The first time I went with my father, when I was young, at his 100th donation, and I remember fainting,” said Hilton. The minor hiccup did little to deter him from giving. Now every two to three weeks he donates plasma — a lengthier process than donating whole blood because the red blood cells are cycled back into the body — and estimates he has donated 145 units.

“It becomes a part of my life like Shabbos. Every Friday is Shabbos, and every two weeks I donate plasma,” said Hilton.

Kahlberg does not subscribe to any special routines, he said.

He wakes up at 3 in the morning each weekday and is in synagogue by 4:30 for Torah study and morning minyan and then on to his job as a store man. He bleeds on Tuesdays, he said, because the clinic is open late so he doesn’t have to take off from work.

For fun, Kahlberg lawn bowls, but mostly he and his wife enjoy spending time with their three children and seven grandchildren. One son and a daughter live nearby and were on hand to celebrate with their father when he made his milestone donation. Every Friday night, the extended family gathers for Shabbat, and each year they make a trip to Australia to visit Hilton and his three children.

Last summer, they journeyed to Israel for the first time in decades to watch as Hilton’s son, Saul, who along with his sister, Nicola, donates blood, earned his Israel Defense Forces beret at a ceremony at the Western Wall.

Kahlberg has no plans of slowing up. “I plan to keep giving as long as Hashem keeps me on this earth,” he said.

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