This afternoon 16-year-old Barbadian Joshua Sobers-Henry walked through the arrival hall of the Grantley Adams International Airport full of emotions and a readiness to start his second chance at life.
He looked around and smiled at his friends and relatives –– even those others he had never seen in his life before.
It was a magical moment for him; one that only someone who had walked along a similar path as his in recent months would be able to appreciate.
Taking time out from playing around and chatting with schoolmates, who had gathered to greet him, Joshua said he was happy to be home and pleased to be reunited with those who were there for him when he was at his lowest in life.
“I just want to get back to what I was doing before, which is living a normal life. It is breathtaking. I can’t even put it in words how happy I am to be back home. I am ready to get back to playing football, going to school and preparing to be a chef,” a joyful and chirpy Joshua told a team from Barbados TODAY.
This teenager received much attention locally and internationally when his touching and heart-rending story became known to the public. His distraught mother Carolann Sobers-Skeete called on Barbadians through the media to offer urgent financial assistance and to make blood donations in an effort to save the life of her son who was deteriorating at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at a very rapid rate earlier this year.
At that time, the tearful mother said that her son, a local football player and student of the Coleridge & Parry School, who was diagnosed with the blood disorder aplastic anaemia late last year, needed to get to the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Washington for stem cell treatment.
Thanks to an overwhelming response, the mother and son, who was masked and confined to wheelchair at that time, left the island for the emergency treatment to be administered.
He is not out of the woods yet, as the condition is still being monitored, but Johsua sees the mere fact that he can stand again and be in good spirits as “things that people who are able to do them should not take for granted”.
“This is really a second chance in my life becauseI was at my wits’ end; but I came back,” he said in a grateful tone.
When the Coleridge & Parry student fell ill, it seemed as though it was just the flu, but later tests were positive for the rare blood disorder after his eyes, tongue and fingertips all turned white one day.
Joshua explained that that was a scary experience which not only left him in pain but also understandably frustrated and confused him.
“I was scared at not knowing what I can do to get myself better. I was scared at knowing that if I didn’t leave I would have died. At first, you thought I wouldn’t have made it because the doctors here said there was nothing for them to do. I was scared because I was good and then all of a sudden I’m sick. It was overwhelming. There was a lot me and my family had to go through; but we stuck together and made it work,” he said.
The teenager said he was aware that he had God’s support and the interest of all those who offered prayers, money and other tangible and non-tangible support, and who paid his medical bills.
“I would like to thank my family and all who helped me to go to the United States and all who helped to maintain my stay in the United States. I would like to thank my friends who came and looked for me in the hospital and everyone who played a major or minor part in helping me to get back,” Joshua said.
He added: “When I went over there at first it was rough because I did not know anyone but then when I got to meet everyone, I got comfortable and it was a bit easier for me to relax and focus on getting better.”
As he rejoined his friends who clearly showed that they missed him, tapping his shoulders and updating him on what games and events he missed
out on while he was away, his mother Carolann said that though her son was still being monitored and had to return to the United States next year to receive a check-up, she was feeling relieved.
She indicated that the stem cell treatment was not at all an easy process, but she was satisfied that Joshua’s body had responded to it.
“At first when he got the treatment in the first week he had the vomiting and shivers, and that was the scary part. A sheet couldn’t even touch his foot, it was so much joint pain. For a couple days he was in the Intensive Care Unit and when he came out basically it was progression from there.
“The stem cell treatment lasted for six months and he had two biopsies; the last one was done last week. He has to have bloodwork done every week now that he is home and they would fax the blood count down to the States and if it starts to drop he would have to go back. It is still at a very funny stage right now. The doctors say there can be a relapse in the first three years. We are just hoping that he continues progressing on this path,” the mother explained.
She too thanked those individuals, groups and companies that helped her son to leave the island in a timely manner.
It was not all medical treatment for Joshua who is about to celebrate his 17th birthday next month, as he was privileged to enjoy a number of fun activities during his stay. Accompanied by his family, he was also went on
a seven-day cruise throughout the Eastern Caribbean which was made possible by the American-based Make A Wish Foundation.