Fri | Sep 22, 2017

World Sickle Cell Day: 'I came home to die'

Published:Sunday | June 19, 2016 | 6:00 AM
Claudette Beckford-Brady

Since 2008, World Sickle Cell Awareness Day is celebrated annually on June 19 to increase awareness of Sickle Cell Disease and the struggles those afflicted with it go through.

Today we share the story of Claudette Beckford-Brady, who returned to Jamaica to die, having lived her entire life with the illness.

I thought I was coming home to die. I've had sickle cell since birth, and, at first, it was said that someone had tried to obeah my mother and it caught me instead.

At age seven, I migrated to the United Kingdom, where several years later, at age 12, I was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease.

What a relief! It wasn't obeah after all!

But my relief was short-lived. The general consensus was that I would be dead before I reached age 30! So, deciding that I did not wish to die in a foreign country, I packed my bags and returned to Jamaica in 1990. By this time I was 33 years old, and convinced that I was living on 'brawta', and it was only a matter of time before I met my demise.

 

DIFFICULT ILLNESS

 

Throughout my life, the Sickle Cell Disease has not been kind. Periodically, I experienced severe debilitating pain. I had my left hip replaced at age 24, then had the replacement removed at age 30, after it became infected. This left me with my left leg several inches shorter than my right, and a very pronounced limp, requiring me to use a cane to assist me in walking.

Then I developed Sickle Cell Retinopathy, which is where the blood vessels behind the eyes break and bleed. After such an episode in the left eye, the broken vessels were sealed off by laser treatment, and I lost the sight in that eye for eight months.

I began having bouts of depression, and started wondering what I had done to deserve such suffering. Then, to my surprise, one morning I woke and started to see light through the eye, and over the course of a few weeks, most of the vision returned, but I could only see things directly in front of me - there was no peripheral vision. At this point, the right eye was still effective apart from severe myopia.

 

RETURN TO JAMAICA

 

During all of this, the painful crises did not abate and seemed to be getting worse. I was convinced that my death was imminent, and so made the decision to leave the UK and return home to Jamaica where the warmer weather would, hopefully, guarantee a more comfortable existence until I expired.

I'd been home for a few years, still living on 'brawta', when the retina in the right eye became totally detached. After several failed attempts to reattach it and to seal the broken vessels, it was determined that a vitrectomy was my only option. A vitrectomy is the surgical removal of the vitreous gel from behind the eye. This procedure resulted in the total loss of vision in the eye. So now, my bad left eye became my good eye - in fact, my only eye.

But I was still alive! And here I am, some 26 years since leaving England, still taking advantage of my 'brawta', and living life to the fullest and enjoying every square inch of this beautiful island - sickle cell, lameness, and poor vision notwithstanding.

Claudette Beckford-Brady is a novelist and short story writer from Old Harbour in St Catherine. To date, she has published five novels including the jaw-dropper Sweet Home, Jamaica, plus a collection of award-winning short stories.