Sickle cell not stopping Neka

On graduation day: From left, cousin Shakira Periera and mother Lecia Browne came to support her.

by Kimberley Cummins

At just 18 years old, Neka Browne, has experienced more than her fair share of crises.

In spite of them though, she has persisted to achieve what only 18 Barbadians have been able to this year. She is one of the Barbados Exhibition winners and she credits these crises with making her the strong, intelligent young woman she is today.

At birth, she had severe jaundice and stayed in the hospital for two weeks. At the tender age of 21 months she would just lay on the floor — she did not move, crawl or walk. Parents, Alwin and Lecia Browne, observed that her arm was swollen and took her to the doctor.

Initially, she was diagnosed with dengue fever. However, it was later revealed that she was in fact born with Sickle Cell Anaemia. Doctors tested her parents and learnt that they both had the sickle cell traits. Sickle Cell is a hereditary disease; in every birth there is a 24 per cent chance that the child could be infected with it.

Luckily, depending on your perspective, she was the only child affected, as both of her younger sisters — Nahlia, eight, and Nya, six — have the trait but not the disease.

Crises continued for Browne. At ages five and ten years old she was hospitalised for three months each time with pneumonia and on countless occasions she missed school as a result of her condition.

Therefore, as she told Barbados TODAY, preparing for the exams was very difficult because the trigger which causes the majority of her attacks was stress.

“It was really difficult at times because each sickle cell person is different. My trigger was stress, other people’s triggers might be cold temperature or infections — and school work is stress.

“I get my crises in my chest and it prevents me from breathing,” she said.

The former Queen’s College student said to help cope she had to design a balanced schedule. Despite this, while studying she experienced two major crises.

“One day I was on my way to school to do a mock Biology exam. I dressed and wasn’t feeling sick or anything and I just collapsed. A few seconds later I woke up and I had serious chest pains as if a crane was on my chest and I couldn’t breathe or walk. I was in so much pain.

“My mother had to lift me to her car to take me to the doctor. When I got there I was rushed straight in to the doctor. He took my blood and gave me Voltaren but the pain didn’t ease off. I used up all that so he gave me morphine and gradually over three hours or so the pain started to subside.

“He told me not to study or go to school for four days. That was the Monday. On Thursday I was still in pain but I had to go to school and do the mock exam. I really wanted to do it so I would know what the exam would be. Sometimes I would also get a pain in my hand, so I like to pace myself so I wouldn’t have a crisis in the exam, so the mock exam really helps.

“I was really striving for the exhibition because I didn’t want my parents to spend so much money on my education because they have two other children they have to send to school,” she said.

Browne’s commitment paid off as she obtained four Grade 1 passes in Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science and Caribbean Studies. She missed the Barbados Scholarship award because she obtained a Grade 2 pass in Biology in the first unit.

The Messiah Drive, Enterprise, Christ Church resident now has her heart set on pursuing Chemical Engineering at the University of the West Indies St. Augustine campus and presently she is awaiting a placement there.

Like every other teen leaving home to study overseas for the first time, she has some anxieties, mainly because of her condition but she said she was resilient and aims to overcome that fear.

“I am always afraid but my doctor once told me that I will always have it (disease) and my parents are not going to be around forever, so I will have to learn to handle it myself.

“And being in a foreign country where you don’t have friends or family it makes you become more responsible and it teaches you how to cope with the disease and I really took that to heart.

“All my life my mother was taking care of me — she never even let me do PE. My mum is afraid, but my father is more afraid and he doesn’t want me to go but I will be good,” she assured.

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