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Smiling through the gray

By Juliana Valdez

Overcoming adversity was once described to me in this way: “When life bowls you lemons, you have two choices: allow the lemons to rot and rot along with them, or, make lemon juice, drink and be sustained, energised, motivated….”

Such is the story of a young man, Reece Michael Deokiesingh, who, against all odds, made lemon juice out of those lemons life bowled him and is still being sustained, energised and motivated today.

I first encountered Reece in my First Year Infants’ class. Well behaved, helpful, loving, and focused, he was one of those students I was glad to see when I arrived at school on mornings.

He would come to my table before school started in the morning, during intermission or after he had his lunch and we would chat about every and anything. It was during one of these encounters he revealed to me his desire to become a priest when he grew up.

Reece comes from an active Catholic family and was involved in the many activities taking place in the parish church, La Divina Pastora RC, Siparia.

After the SEA examination, Reece went on to secondary school and it was during this time, the lemons started coming his way.


Here, in his own words, is his story.

“At the age of 15, my life changed in an instant. I was diagnosed with bulbar palsy (bilateral damage/injury of the nerve nuclei in cranial nerves IX-XII). I am now 21 and for the past four years of my life, I have not eaten or drunk a thing. I have been attaining nutrition through a gastrostomy tube entering my stomach, having syringes, feeding pumps and a whole lot of spillages in my everyday life.

Leading up to my diagnosis were endless days of pneumonia, IV (intravenous) medication, X-rays, and a prevalent amount of uncertainty.

My memories of that were ‘gray’ and I call it this because there was no colour. I pondered upon the quality of my life and worst—my family’s. Their life wouldn’t be ‘normal’ from now on either. Family meals? Nope. Feeding times and sourcing hypoallergenic feeds? Yep.

I dropped out of school at the start of Form 3 and this was something that bothered me entirely. I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and this condition made that goal miles further. I spent an unconventional amount of time in health centres, nursing homes and hospitals as an impressionable teenager.

During this time, I had so many eye-opening encounters. Horrible experiences to humbling ones. I appreciated every single one of them—it reaffirmed my ambition to help people.

Slowly, I started to see in colour again. Despite my condition being the same, those experiences coupled with the strength and love from the people in my life were enough to fuel that drive.

I replaced that period at night when I cried my eyes out while my pump made its background noises, with reading over my textbooks. Having my syllabus in the next hand, I’d slowly go over a chapter. I did this for months until I wrote them privately, and got 1s, 2s and distinctions in my required subjects.

I’m currently attending The University of the West Indies as a pre-med student with hopes of starting my Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery in 2021. Five years from now, I do not want to have ‘what ifs’, knowing that I let this adversity prevent me from seeing out a future I dreamt of.

It’s the fact of knowing that I at least tried would make it easier. The little voice in my head that made me feel I couldn’t do it, even up to this day, I stifle it with positivity. I try. Whenever I meet new people, I’m met with: ‘You are always smiling!’. I giddily reply with “It takes more muscles to frown than to smile”.

Of course, there are days when I’m down, we ALL have those. Despite my conditions and the numerous complications, it can bring about daily, I go to sleep at night knowing that tomorrow there’s an opportunity for my day to be better, even in the slightest, and that’s a blessing.

With the upcoming Christmas season 2020, please shower your loved ones with appreciation. Personally, they’re my source of strength—my parents, elder brothers, cousins, aunts, and uncles, even a few of my reoccurring friends from the La Divina parish. They gave me that initial push to continue fighting. For that I’m eternally grateful.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so just take it step by step like me. Don’t sweat the small stuff, keep your chin up, just hang tough and when it gets too rough fall on your knees and pray. Then you do that every day.”

Through his experiences, Reece had to change vocation plans, but the direction God is leading him to is also one of service to others, as a medical doctor.

May God continue to bless, lead, and guide him in all his endeavours.

We hope his story will be a source of inspiration to others.