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Dr. Heather Little-White, living with a bullet

Barbara Ellington


Ready to navigate the ramp at home with nurse Maureen Friend.

"...WISE men never sit and wail their loss, but cheerily seek how to redress their harms" -- Henry VI, Part III, William Shakespeare.

THIS quotation aptly summarises the attitude of nutritionist/writer, Dr. Heather Little-White, who on July 6, 1999, had her life altered when a gunman's bullet found its mark in her sixth vertebra.

The bullet's force upon penetration was so severe, it caused the spinal cord to swell and paralysed her from the chest down, almost immediately. Today she is on the slow road to recovery and, remarkably, is not embittered by the cruel act, but determined to fulfil her purpose in life.

Of the fateful day, she recalls going to drop off copies of the 'Daily Word' booklet for a friend in Norbrook; "...I could have stopped, like I usually did, to see the Reggae Boyz, but I don't dwell on the ifs, instead I focus on what I can do to move on. I remember staring down the barrel of the gun and thinking that I had to live to finish the work God wants me to do, so I didn't realise I was shot until my legs went dead," she said.

Dr. Little-White explained that the bullet is lodged in a bone, not moving and not causing any damage but the consequences of attempting to remove it could be disastrous. Over time, the swelling in the spinal cord will decrease.

Flair visited Dr. Little-White and found her in high spirits. Although involuntary muscle spasms occurred frequently during the interview, she patiently waited while one of two round-the-clock nurses, massaged the leg into stillness, pointing out that with lowering of the temperature, the spasms begin.

"These spasms", she explained, "can sometimes throw you from the chair but my progress has been very good, for example, I can now feel when I want to urinate and I now am able to get into my wheelchair without the sliding board and there is much more sensation from my waist down," she said.

Her daily routine begins with quiet time after getting awake at 6:00 a.m.; this is followed by a shower, accomplished with the use of a shower chair and nurse's assistance, after getting dressed she breakfasts and by 8:30 a.m., she leaves for the office. During the summer, her day's schedule includes teaching hospitality students at the University of Technology, something she had been doing long before the shooting. A ramp has been constructed for her use.

If there are no late appointments, Dr. Little-White is home by 6:00 p.m. on a normal day, she catches up on her reading before going to bed by midnight. Of course, she has to be chauffeured around in a special van and is always accompanied by a nurse.

"My social life is still active, but wheelchair access is limited in Jamaica, if health tourism is one of our goals, this problem has to be addressed," she said. She told Flair that she is an advisor to the three-month-old Paraplegic Association and laments the selfishness of motorists who park in spots clearly designated for the disabled.

Dr. Little-White also intends to adopt a more active role in helping the disabled. She disclosed that next year she would be writing a book about the experience.

"No one plans for disability, we plan for retirement, but you can be disabled in a second," she said. Her stay in Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida cost US$70,000.00; she is very impressed by the CIREN Centre in Cuba and is scheduled to return there for further therapy.

Meanwhile, her townhouse has been converted to accommodate her new condition; there are ramps in the front and back entrances, the downstairs bed and bathrooms were converted for her requirements and disposable gloves, anti-spasmodic medication, catheters, bed pads, a bed with detachable rails, vitamins and other medical supplies form part of her daily needs.

She is grateful to friends and family for their love and support and believes that sometimes you are taken down to rise again. "I have received a tremendous outpouring even from persons who I did not know," she said.

Would it have been better to discontinue her business? "No, it began with a vision I had years ago and I am committed to help Jamaicans in the areas of nutrition, proper diet and food preparation through training."

On a sobering note, this victim of the current crime wave that is sweeping the country is still wondering why it is taking so long to break the back of this scourge. "It is frustrating but I still believe in my country."

On Sunday, August 27, Friends of Heather Little-White will host 'Summer Fest" at the Hilton Kingston Hotel from noon to six o'clock. Proceeds will go to the Heather Little-White therapy fund.

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