Having received limited preparation for the 2015 11-Plus Examination, 12-year-old Amal Blackman, who suffers from full-blown sickle cell disease, nonetheless did perform well.
Between Class 1 and Class 4, Amal may have attended Selah Primary School just over 50 times, as most of his days were spent at home, or in the hospital, either receiving treatment or recovering from a “crisis”.
Clearly, he took full advantage of the school sessions he was able to attend, as his Common Entrance Exam results showed he had received 66.06 in English, 73.74 in mathematics and an E in composition, rounding off his total score at 139.78.
He was unable to complete his papers, as the time ran out in each case.
“I know for sure, from a baby until now God has a hand in his life, because so many times he could have been dead. [Amal] had in his mind he could do it because he knows God could help him.
“This one is a big one. This is a miracle. It could only be a miracle,” his excited 34-year-old mother Keisha Blackman told Barbados TODAY, proudly reviewing Amal’s achievement at their Connell Town, St Lucy home yesterday.
However, Blackman did admit that owing to that lack of preparedness, she was not going to allow her son to sit the examination. But just days before the test when he told her “if God can raise people from the dead, why do you think he would not help me with a little exam?”, her mind was immediately changed.
“I feel happy and glad that I am going to my brand new school, and that I am out of primary school,” said Amal, who divulged that some aspects of the examination were easy, while others were hard.
Sickle cell is an hereditary form of anaemia in which the red blood cells become sickle-shaped, and less able to carry oxygen. It is a chronic disease and occurs most frequently in people of African descent.
Amal’s rough life started when he was diagnosed at one year old –– after late into her pregnancy Keisha herself found out she had the trait. Further investigations revealed Amal’s father Anderson Blackman too had it.
Amal was first admitted to hospital at 15 months, and, soon after, Keisha became a stay-at-home mum to care for her firstborn “From 15 months to now he is 12 years old, he has had lots and lots of admissions. He has gone through a lot of crisis, whether at home or at the hospital.
“He has had blood transfusions when admitted to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit many times. At one time he was even having seizures,” the mother, who cradles and emotionally supports her son every step of the way, explained Infants B and Class 1 were two tough years for Amal.
Nevertheless, he was promoted to Class 2 where his health ordeal took a turn for the worse, when a severe pain in the hip showed that he had avascular necrosis (death of bone tissue due to lack of blood supply).
As Amal sat close by listening to his life story, his mum recalled that this was one of the roughest periods of his life. “When he walked, it would be dry and brittle and the bone would be breaking off . . . . At first, I didn’t know what it was, but I found he used to be walking funny and complaining for pain. So we had tests done that confirmed what it was.
“So I got some crutches for him to hold the weight off the hip and those worked for a bit. But then from using the crutches he developed a problem with the shoulders hurting a lot.
“Then I had got a wheelchair to help him get around. Eventually, he had surgery, so the hip would get the blood supply it wanted and things started to get better.” Amal repeated Class 2, and, once again, missed most days of school.
After some consideration by school authorities, he was promoted to Class 3, and eventually allowed to go over to Class 4, where he followed the same script of missing school.
“Coming up to the exam, he would hear children talking about what school they wanted to go to. I would say to him, ‘Don’t feel bad’, because he went through a whole lot and was not able to go to school. After we talked, and he asked to try, we decided to allow him to do the exam.” Every month since October last year, Amal has had a crisis. So it did not surprise his mum that two weeks before this year’s 11-Plus, he had become very sick.
“He took morphine as usual, which helps with the pain but also affects his behaviour. He becomes very aggressive and agitated. “But by the Wednesday before the exam he was feeling a lot better. I spoke to him the weekend before the exam and told him I will not let him do it, and he didn’t feel too good about that,” she said.
“The Sunday coming home from harvest at church where he had to deliver a recitation, Amal said to me, ‘Mummy, there are so many people out there that don’t believe in me; and I want to show them that I could do it’.
The mother said she recalled telling herself that if her son could have so much confidence in God and faith in himself, she had no choice but to believe in him too.
On his way to the examination centre, Amal admitted to his mummy that he was feeling a little nervous, as is customary for a majority of sitters on that day.
“When he came out, he said, ‘Mummy, I did my best’. But before he did, some other children had come out crying. So when I hadn’t see him yet, I was anticipating what he would look like. “He said the composition was hardest because he didn’t have a story to write. I told him don’t worry about anything.”
His family would never forget the day the results came back! Just after 3 p.m., Amal’s little sisters Akayla, 10, and Akrystia, 6, none of whom have the sickle cell trait, brought home his results slip from
the Ministry of Education.
Following much anxiety over whether to wait for his dad to come home before he opened it, to his delight Amal found out he would be heading to Darryl Jordan Secondary from September.
The mother said this was the only school she put down on the choice form because of its proximity to home.
“It was one of the best results he has ever received,” the overjoyed Blackman said From a medical perspective, the mother said she knew her son would not live a normal life as sometimes “he will be good and sometimes he is sick a lot” “But God has a plan for his life,” she proclaimed.
To celebrate Amal’s accomplishment, the family will be going on an overseas trip this summer.