Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The sad saga of Judah: Burn victim faces multiple surgeries in Miami

Judah Lovell... scarred in a bamboo ‘bussing’ incident.
Photos: Dalton Narine

Miami—A father and son occupy a room at Spring Hill Suites, Miami, 2,600 kilometres from their hometown in La Canoa, Santa Cruz.. They have become guests of fate. And they wait on time. Judah Lovell, seven, has been scarred by two surgeries performed 15 months ago at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex in Mt Hope. An innocent observer of innocent fun, he had taken a full-frontal assault from a “bamboo-bussing” adventure that went awry in the presence of neighbourhood children and his brothers, Eron, 12, and Jamal, 10.
From that moment on, Michael Lovell and his son—who comes from a mixed-race heritage—have been trapped in an enduring downhill roller-coaster trip that he hopes will take a new slant and bend upward, someday, somehow, to the disposition of a higher power. Meanwhile, at the family home “up Kingston Avenue,” Oma Jankey, wife and mother, might have located the will and faith to decipher the hard knocks of a life that has buckled so primitively just so; nevertheless she finds guilt, and pain over her grief that “something like that shouldn’t have happened while I was at home.”
“It hard, it hard,” she says. “It sad.” Jankey places a daily call to her husband and son, holed up, like hibernating animals, at the Spring Hill Suites near the Jackson Memorial Hospital in an unseasonably wintry sub-tropical city, where the first surgery of Judah’s new life will be performed perhaps in a matter of weeks. “He’s in good spirits,” Jankey says. “But he cries sometimes. He says he’s missing me. I tell him I’m waiting until he comes back. He knows I must take care of his year-and-a-half-old sister, Sapphire. He and I have such a close relationship.”
Vivid recollections of trauma haunt her: Judah’s Lakers jersey is ablaze, grabbing at the upper body and neck, peeling the skin away. Her mother, Indra Jankey, celebrating her birthday that Sunday, October 11, 2009, rushing toward him. He bawling, she pulling the garment over his head. Jankey making the call to his father, who is on a landscaping job four minutes away. The son, a lefty, his body blackened, rolling the eyes wide with fright. Burns from belly to neck, and on the left hand, too, pushing him to ask, “Daddy, am I going to die?” Michael dashing off in his car with the boy, horn screaming and lights blinking all the way to the hospital.
But the nightmare is barely in its infancy. Lovell and Jankey spin a single thread into the longest rope that doesn’t seem to have an end. The unspooling begins, really, at the hospital. She, pleading with the doctor not to graft skin on the healing wounds. The doctor, shooting back that the throat is a tricky area, and she’ll have to live with that if he doesn’t graft. Two skin grafts later, emotions run helter-skelter within the family. Allegations of irregular bandage changes—sometimes five days overdue—reach the ears of doctors and nurses. Untreated flesh stink like rotting meat, is how the couple press their case. “The doctor’s negligence disfigured my child for life,” Jankey says.
(A head nurse informs a caller that “everything went well,” and promises to transfer the call to the doctor, which, weirdly or not, leads to a dead end.) More bitterness piles on. Lovell is searching for answers from authorities, but there seems to be no recourse. No remorse, either. A stroke befalls him. Now, Jankey is flashing back again. There’s an open wound in Judah’s neck, like someone had cut off a piece of skin. The neck has a pocket, like a kangaroo’s. Bacteria settle in. The skin is bursting around the neck, forming holes. Two, then three. Pus, a product of inflammation, oozing from the neck and filling two glasses. It smells like death. So, it’s back to the paediatric ward.
A recovering Judah lucks into a routine of arts and craft, which is taught by a person affiliated with a non-governmental organisation (NGO). Unable to tilt his head up or down and left or right, without bending or turning his body, he finds the sensation of stringing coloured beads into objects of his fancy a compensatory occupation. And bestows his artwork upon patients in the ward, as he does with gifts he receives from family and well-wishers.
In the meantime, good Samaritans have been rallying to Judah’s predicament. Ian Alleyne, presenter of Crime Watch on WinTV, Carol Boon, Anna-Lisa Habib, Dave Surajdeen and Kathryn Stollmeyer-Wight, among a host of others, bring national focus to the family’s plight. Stollmeyer-Wight is encouraged by a Mt Hope doctor’s summation about multiple surgeries to be performed in Miami. “By then, Judah’s story had become an incredible journey,” Stollmeyer-Wight says. “I put the story on my Facebook page. Then it took on a life of its own. People saw the wounds in the photographs. It opened their hearts. I grew up ‘bussing’ bamboo myself in Santa Cruz, and I just couldn’t see this little boy growing up so scarred.”
Facebook friends reach out from every corner of the world, shovelling all manner of aid and relief to the family.
Now it is left to someone like St Clair-based Ian Kalloo, managing director of Dalian Medical Concierge Services Ltd, an interactive medical management for people with group health insurance, to provide the key role in the final chapter of the Trinidad saga of Judah’s struggle. Because, since specialist medical care was required in the US, it was necessary to liaise with Olympus Ltd, Dalian’s US counterpart.
Kalloo would need to run interference between both companies on behalf of Judah. Kalloo and Dr Dale Maharaj, his business partner, hooked up with plastic surgeon Dr Ravindra Lalla and Deputy Speaker Fuad Khan. The association’s brainstorm inspires Dalian and Olympus to negotiate an initial deposit from US$250,000 to US$40,000.
Two major surgeries will address a majority of Judah’s problems, according to Kalloo. “Cosmetic surgery will be necessary, too,” he said. Stollmeyer-Wight and Ian Alleyne, Kalloo reminds, “have been instrumental in putting it all together,” including the trip to Miami. Judah and his father arrive with Stollmeyer-Wight. Facebook friends Trinidadian-born Jinnah Emamdee and his wife Carol greet the party at the hotel.  Emamdee remembers Judah’s face as calm but sad.  “I saw a child that was in pain,” he said. “It was the necklace made out of rope around his neck that really caught my eye... It was the skin of his neck.”
His new friends bring warmth whenever they visit, and Judah gifts them key chains from his alligator and lizard collection and a tiny Christmas tree, all of which he manufactures from a stash of beads he keeps next to his stuffed animals at his bedside. The other day, father and son, accompanied by Stollmeyer-Wight, swing by the popular, cavernous Dadeland Mall. She buys the boy a balloon. Minutes later, she notices that he has pulled his shirt over his neck and face; and now he’s shielding his distortion with the balloon. “People were gawking at him and he didn’t want them to see him disfigured,” Stollmeyer-Wight recalls. “Judah will get these operations somehow,” she says. “We’re not going to give up on him. He deserves better.”
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