A most able spirit
by Kimberley Cummins
Wheelchair-bound from age three, there are no restraints strong enough to shackle the spirit of Dondre Hunte-Weekes.
The 13-year-old was born on January 13, 2000, with a condition called cerebral palsy, which is caused by injuries or abnormalities of the brain. Most of these problems occur as the baby grows in the womb, but they can also happen at any time during the first two years of life, while the baby’s brain is still developing.
It is described as a group of disorders that can involve brain and nervous system functions, such as movement, learning, hearing, seeing, and thinking. There are several different types of cerebral palsy, including spastic, dyskinetic, ataxic, hypotonic, and mixed.
Though Hunte-Weekes was diagnosed with this condition from the time he was a baby, his family, primarily his mother Sharon Hunte, made it a priority never to allow his circumstances to hinder his way of living.
Ask anyone from the Bay Land, St. Michael district where he resides about the “star boy” and they will all say the same thing — he is fun-loving, bubbly, awesome and likes a lot of “going out”. Fairs, parties, Chefette, the cinema, Sheraton Mall, Lanterns Mall, the beach, horse racing are but a few of his favourite places to go.
He enjoys surfing, horse back riding, flying his Bat kite, using the computer, hanging with friends in the district and those at the Challenor Creative Arts and Training Centre in Canefield, St. Thomas where he has been a student since age five, but mostly he loves to eat.
His mother, Sharon, told Barbados TODAY that was Dondre’s most guilty pleasure. Anything to do with food he was involved and she believed when he grew up he might be a chef.
“Sometimes he does brings water to my eyes, seeing him happy and laughing. Supposed you are having a bad day and you come home and see Dondre, you will forget about everything,” she said as she smiled.
In spite of all the joys and excitement they are now experiencing, she explained the early years were not that easy. Back in 1999 as a 22-year-old first-time expectant mother she was overjoyed at the impending baby. Never did she think that her baby would be differently-abled.
It was a normal pregnancy, everything was good but during birth, she said, he lost oxygen and had to be vacuumed out.
“After I gave birth I was ‘fag out’ so I didn’t know what was happening when they took him and rushed off with him. I just asked if my baby was dead because he born blue. Later they brought him back to me, I gave him a kiss and they told me he had some difficulties during birth and he would have to go in the NICU,” she said.
“I was studying my baby, I kept seeing everybody with theirs and I didn’t see mine. When I went to the NICU I saw him hooked up with all different types of machines so I asked what was wrong but back in the day they didn’t want to explain what was the problem.”
Dondre left the hospital when he was about three weeks old. At six or seven months his mother realised he was not doing some of the things he was “supposed” to be doing, so still not receiving any answers she took the baby to another doctor where she learnt of his condition.
“I was vex, they never used to explain nothing. I went back to the hospital and then I was sent to the Children’s Development Centre. There they took a lot of care of Dondre, they sat down and explained every single thing to me. They helped motivate me and him so I could understand his condition better.
“It was hard. I used to sit down and ask ‘Why me?’, but eventually my main concern was dealing with him. As a mother dealing with him it wasn’t ‘why me?’ anymore, it was supposed to be me. I never blame myself … [because] at the end of the day you can’t question God, he is the way how he supposed to be,” the mother of two said.
Years onwards she has learnt to cope with her son’s situation but this was mainly due to the assistance of family and friends and she advised other parents of differently-abled children to put trust in God and be the best parents they could be.
“Give your child all the love and attention it needs. I think it was love and attention that got Dondre all this way, the family support is very important and that helps you. Get the children out, you might think that they don’t understand but they do understand. You got to get to know your child and you must have a strong mind or you will break down.”
While many parents have continued to read and get better informed about the condition of their children she was of the opinion that many other Barbadians were “still in the dark ages”, she explained, especially those who would see such children and stare or laugh because of ignorance.
However, she warned that no one knew what tomorrow held for them and urged society to get more adapted to people with disabilities. She said that although some things had improved, the advancement was not as fast as it could be and she called on the Government to be the catalyst for such change.
“I know there are some parents who would like to carry out their children but they don’t have the transportation. We can’t go out to the bus stop and put our children on the bus; we should be able to. There†should be special buses equipped for wheelchair accessibility and not only for them to get to school. Any time I want to take Dondre somewhere and his father can’t take us I would have to pay taxi fare. I think that is why a lot of children does be house-bound or parents put them in a home.
“I would love to carry Dondre in town but I can’t because the majority of the stores … just have stairs. The majority of the side walks don’t have ramps. That is why I prefer Sheraton, I can walk all over and there are bathrooms with wheelchair accessibility.
“Bridgetown get do over recently, where the ramps? Stores get do over but it is only Cave Shepherd that got elevators… no proper side walks. Barbados is sadly still lagging behind and that needs to change,” she said. firstname.lastname@example.org