Not an easy road
Suffering from multiple complications that come with her sickle cell anaemia, which has her constantly hospitalized, Melissa Murray has often got her doctors and family members thinking she just might die.
Actually, the continuous knocks she has received from the genetic blood disorder –– in which red blood cells that carry blood around the body develop abnormally –– at one point had Murray wanting to give up on life.
She has limited mobility, and her inability to sit or get up out of a chair on her own would touch the hardest of hearts. But despite the life-threatening condition which has seriously affected her quality of life, snatching many of her dreams and aspirations, she has found new meaning in living.
That meaning came through her two angels, who make her smile every day: her daughters nine-year-old Shania Murray-Welch, who also has sickle cell herself and four-year-old Trevannie Harper.
During a touching and emotional talk with Barbados TODAY at her Hillaby, St Andrew home, the 31-year-old told her story of how she was diagnosed with the disease from an early age, her inability to live a normal life and of her two angels who encourage her to wake up on mornings to see the light of day and their smiling faces.
“I have a lot of complications as a result of the sickle cell. I have avascular necrosis (cellular death of bone components due to interruption of blood supply; the bone structures then collapse, resulting in bone destruction, pain, and loss of joint fraction); my heart is enlarged. I have problems with my gall bladder. I have problems with my liver and a whole lot of other complications because of the sickle cell. There were many times that doctors thought I wouldn’t have made it.
“There was a point when I had a worsened form of pneumonia and I had to be in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and I unfortunately had to experience it with Shania where she had to be in ICU and I had to keep my fingers crossed.”
Murray was diagnosed with the illness at three years old after being tested because of severely swollen toes and feet.
Growing up, she spent much time on the children’s ward at the hospital because she was always in excruciating pain, and was quick to pick up a cold or pneumonia infections. Murray was known as the “sickly girl who was kept indoors most times because the cold or heat outside affected her”.
“Basically everything would affect me. I would be playing as normal and then I would go to sleep and wake up in pain,” she recalled.
Despite missing classwork and having to sit numerous makeup tests, the former Alleyne student excelled and got back enough Caribbean Examination Certificates to ssist her in gaining entry to the Barbados Community College to pursue the nursing programme, because she dreamed of becoming a nurse to take care of the sick.
That dream was shattered in her early 20s, in the initial stages of her studies when her sickness took a turn for the worse and she was hospitalized.
Soon after, her “limbs and body just started deteriorating”.
“I had to go through rehabilitation and it was no going back to the way I was. Rehabilitation was for me to become comfortable with the way I had become,” said.
The rehabilitation process was not an easy road for Murray; it was hard and rocky and there were many moments she wished to give up.
“I remember when I first was learning to rehabilitate myself in the house, I remember I fell and my face went right through the cabinet glass. So I had a hard process of learning to really cope and learning to get around being this way.”
Murray’s daughters are miracles, and she knows that. But she remembers clearly provoking thoughts that reeled in her when a teacher once told her that she would never have children. Though she experienced difficulties in both of her pregnancies, having to be hospitalized during her last term with one of them, Murray would not trade anything for the joys of being a mother.
“I almost lost my life while I was getting both of them. I still can’t believe they are here, because I always grew up hearing people with sickle cell should not have kids because if you have kids you will probably die. I spent a lot of times during my pregnancy being scared because I was thinking what was going to happen.
“But they are my reason for going on because there was a point in my life that I wanted to give up, because I was bedridden and really sick. It was after I had Shania and Trevannie was a baby. But one of the things that kept me going was to know that I just wanted to get up out of this bed to be able to do things with the kids,” said the mother whose daughters stood by her throughout the interview, showering her with hugs and kisses which she explained was the norm.
As for Shania’s inheriting sickle cell, Murray explained she was not aware that her child’s father carried the trait, as was the case with her parents who are both carriers.
“[Shania] has had her experience with missing school and being hospitalized. I thank God that she has come around and she is doing well; and she has been able to start to go to church and have the experience that I had when I could have gone to church. On Sundays somebody would come and take them to church and that is what I always wanted.”
Noting that she holds a strong faith in God, the sickle cell patient thanked her doctors, family members who stood by her side and members of Nazarene Church, located opposite her home, for reaching out to her needs. The assistance she receives from the National Assistance Board was also greatly appreciated.
“I can’t do a lot of things that many people take for granted. I would love to one morning just get up and get on the bus and take my kids into Bridgetown. But, I can’t get on the bus because my knees cannot bend for me to sit.
“I would just love to have the independence. I always have to depend on somebody to be there with me if I make a outing. If I go out, I always have to plan ahead and get somebody to take me, be there with me, or somebody to pick me up.”
She is especially grateful to her two little helpers.
“My daughter Shania is very helpful and she would take things out of the refrigerator and do certain things for me. I can still cook and boil soup because I can still do certain things with limitation,” Murray said.
Material-wise she may not have much; and she does not ask for much.
But like many Barbadians and people across the world who recently rang in the New Year, Murray has her special wish.
“My wish would be based around my children that despite my disabilities, I could be able to just enjoy life to the maximum with my kids and see them grow up.
“I would love to take them somewhere nice that we can enjoy ourselves. They were looking forward to going to a party this year, but that didn’t take place because we were not well. I would just love to do an outing with them to see a smile come to their faces,” she said hopefully.
Murray also had a hopeful word to share, especially with those whom she said “fussed about so many minor things in life”.
“I want them just to sit down and to think about life and see that some of the minor things in life that they think are so big and so grand . . . to just look at my life and see that they are taking a lot of things for granted –– that I don’t have.”