Just a day after discovering he had contracted Covid-19, a South African father succumbed to the deadly virus.
“He has always been that person who, if he was in trouble, would keep things to himself. He didn’t want us to know if something bad has happened. That was him.”
These were the emotional words from Shana-Lee Vanderbyl, a Pietermaritzburg hairdresser whose father died at Wentworth Hospital in Durban on 28 June, just one day after he was diagnosed with Covid-19. He would have turned 52 on 29 June.
“Lots of people were shocked that he went so quickly. It was such a short space of time after finding out he was positive, he was gone,” she told News24 on Thursday.
Smale, a hail smith by profession (one who repairs hail-inflicted damage on vehicles) would often travel to different parts of the country for work.
“He was in Kimberley last month and he was fine. He drove back by himself, then he was in Kokstad and I think that is where he picked up the virus,” said Vanderbyl.
She said her father showed general flu-like symptoms when he last visited his daughters.
“In all honesty, I don’t think he even knew how sick he was.”
How did it all unfold?
Vanderbyl said she had initially fallen ill.
“I got really sick and had a bad chest infection, and everybody first thought it was coronavirus. I was in and out of the hospital and had x-rays and the coronavirus test done which came up negative.”
She said her father fell ill a week after her.
“He got sick a week after me. He thought it was the flu and was taking pills for that. He did the most to keep going.”
Vanderbyl said the last time they saw him was two weeks before he passed.
“He gave us sanitiser and was warning us about Covid-19. He was literally living his life trying to protect us from this virus.”
She said his symptoms included red eyes and coughing.
“He did not want to spend any time with us because he knew I was sick and still recovering. He actually stayed quite clear from us and didn’t touch anything.”
She said Smale then returned to his Durban home.
Then, dad was gone…
“We tried to call him for about two days but could not get hold of him. It was his birthday on Monday, 29 June and we were looking forward to celebrating him.”
Vanderbyl said they discovered he had not answered his phone because he was unwell.
“It was the first time he had been so sick. He was admitted to hospital and they did a Covid-19 test immediately. Before that, he did go to a doctor in Durban, but the doctor did not diagnose him or bother to check for the virus. We are following up on this as a family.”
“It was just flu symptoms, but in just a matter of a week or so, he was gone. It was so fast and unexpected.”
Dad was trying to save our house
She said her family was still grieving the loss of her 69-year-old grandfather who was killed just three weeks ago in a car accident.
“It’s really difficult. There are two good, humble guys in our lives that we’ve lost. God always takes the best. We are devastated it had to be those two. We also lost an uncle in February this year.”
She said his body was kept in two plastic bags at the mortuary.
“Once the funeral parlour gets there to pick the body up, the bag has to be stapled. We are not allowed an open casket. Being Catholic we are disheartened that we cannot give our dad a proper burial at a cemetery.”
She added: “Unfortunately, we have to cremate his body and [it] is something we did not see coming. My dad is someone that never took a funeral policy. We organised everything from our own pockets. All we have [are] thoughts of how we last saw him and that is it.”
‘We could not even see his body’
Vanderbyl said they had attempted to view his body at the hospital after he died, “but they said this is not allowed”.