After toiling in pain for most of her 14 years, Samara Murrell can finally see relief coming.
The fourth-form Harrison College student flies to St Louis, Missouri, on Wednesday for an operation to fix a painful growth disorder that has warped both her legs, and the thinking of mindless passersby.
And her school will chip in to see the teenager’s academic journey is not derailed while she spends at least four months in recovery.
Murrell is to undergo corrective surgery for Blount’s disease at the St Louis Shriners Children Hospital. The half-million-US-dollar, 18-hour procedure which has been paid for by the Sandy Lane Trust.
Commonly mistaken for ‘bow legs’, Blount’s disease is a growth disorder that affects the bones of the lower leg, causing them to bow outward. It can affect people at any time during the growing process, but it’s more common in kids younger than four and in their teens.
When Murrell was two years old, she was diagnosed with the disease by orthopaedic specialist Dr Jerome Jones. Her mother, Faye Murrell, noticed that the energetic toddler had trouble walking in straight lines. She also walked into walls and fell down frequently in comparison to her peers.
It was a condition that proved extremely difficult for Faye and her husband Andrew to deal with considering that they had Samara shortly after they married. Then came seemingly insufferable nights when Samara screamed out in anguish.
“Understanding that God allows things to happen for particular reasons, we looked to see the positive in this and we didn’t allow things that people said to us to get us down because some people they see her and they do not understand what is wrong they just start to laugh and say mean things,” said Faye.
“People can be really insensitive to persons with disabilities but that hardened our resolve and we determined from that day until now that Samara was not going to become a statistic . . . . She was not going to stay home, she was not going to be isolated, even when she was in hospital she was not, not going to study,” her mother told Barbados TODAY.
The past 12 years have been a struggle for the 42-year-old mother of four. But through prayer, she and Samara built a tolerance to handle anything that crossed their paths, she said.
The child has had over 14 surgeries throughout her lifetime, sometimes four in a year since her diagnosis, she said.
She recalled feelings of horror and helplessness as her daughter’s frightening screams would echo throughout the Children’s Ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, or when she fell in a gutter while attending the Gordon Walters Primary School and was unable to stand while onlookers attempted to rescue her.
“As a parent when you see your child in those kinds of positions, you feel it. You feel I would really not like you to have to go through this right now and if I could protect her from that I would give anything for her not to have to undergo this,” mother Faye said.
Despite the numerous trials that the teen has faced, she remains positive and focused, her mother told Barbados TODAY. Whether or not she was in the hospital, she said, the teenager would continue to study and focus on achieving her goals.
“A lot of times Samara could be in a position where she wants to give up because it is not easy. You are getting morphine drips and in between the morphine you are either on the codeine or tandamine but you are still in the bed studying – who does that?
“Samara is an inspiration in that she convinces one that you don’t make excuses. If life throws you lemons you throw them right back and do something about the situation, complaining doesn’t change things, crying and moaning doesn’t change things.”
Samara’s surgery is scheduled for October 17 but for now, the high school student’s greatest concern is being away from her family and friends for the next four months.
“Before, everybody would ask so when is the surgery, I would say next year, next month, next week and now I have to say in a couple of days . . . . My family really did a lot telling me not to complain, not to be afraid and not to worry too much about the situation,” Samara told Barbados TODAY.
The fourth-former also said her goal upon returning to Barbados was to win the Junior Monarch Competition after failing to performing on the final stage for the past two years. Her love for social commentary and the calypso stage is a familial trait as she has been influenced by her uncles, Dynamo and Billboard.
Since Samara will be absent for two terms, Harrison College has provided an alternative: a three-tier programme that will include tutoring during the summer vacation, online tutoring via Google Classroom while she recovers in Missouri and a combination of face-to-face and online teaching as she undergoes therapy and treatment back in Barbados.
Deputy principal David McCarthy disclosed that the teachers and the Board of Management were pleased with the mother and daughter’s devotion to education. He noted that normally students requested a year break but the Murrells were different in their commitment and passion for Samara to remain focus on her studies and at the top of her class. During the summer vacation, Samara received rigorous tutoring for her eight subjects and she completed her midterms, he said.
“Samara has always been a strong individual, a go-getter and I think that has aided in the process in that she is not sitting back and allowing for any pity, she wants to get ahead with the business of learning.
“She can really show some of the others both here and elsewhere what determination and hard work is all about because she epitomizes it quite favourably,” McCarthy indicated.
Harrison College principal Juanita Wade, commended the 14-year-old for her perserverance and determination despite many obstacles.
“I saw Samara last week Wednesday and I knew she was pretty tired, so I know it must be quite a challenge for her, but to press on and not complain I think really speaks volumes for her personality and her character,” Wade said.