Christopher and Andrea Jacobs were eagerly anticipating celebrating son Kristophe’s Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination results at the family home in Sydenham Gardens, just outside Spanish Town, on Tuesday evening.
They never got that chance.
Kristophe, 17, died late Tuesday of suspected sickle-cell complications at the hospital, where he had been admitted the night before.
The CSEC results they were awaiting arrived a few short hours after his passing, plunging the tight-knit family into utter despair. He had passed seven of eight subjects.
Kristophe’s parents, who have two other sons, said on Wednesday that he had dreamt of attending the Mona campus of The University of the West Indies.
“The fact that we have gotten the results and he never had the chance to know breaks my heart,” said Kristophe’s father. “He’s not here to enjoy it, and I cannot even call him to tell him how well he has done.”
Devastated, Mr Jacobs remembers Kristophe’s warm personality and credits him with being an inspirational force in urging the family, him included, to study the Bible as new converts.
“He was a young man with purpose and a passion for doing the right thing,” Mr Jacobs told The Gleaner.
Kristophe fell sick on Monday night and was rushed to the Spanish Town Hospital on Tuesday evening after suffering a seizure.
The deeply religious teen wanted to pursue a career in medicine, his mother said.
That ambition was one of the last things he discussed with his parents, who also have the sickle-cell trait.
Mrs Jacobs said that she knew almost immediately when she became pregnant that the baby would stand a great chance of being sickle-cell-positive.
“So as soon as he was born, I had him tested, and it was confirmed he had full-blown sickle-cell,” Mrs Jacobs said.
The inherited disorder – which limits the number of healthy blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body – did not stop Kristophe from having a fulfilling life as a child, his mom said. And when the COVID-19 outbreak emerged in Jamaica in March, the Jacobses made it a point of duty to stay indoors and away from crowds when outside.
“He went nowhere, including the church, which he was quite fond of, and if he had to go anywhere, it would be to the farm,” Mrs Jacobs said.
“The running joke in the house would have been us and the bushes, as we wouldn’t come into contact with anybody else.”
Tuesday’s seizure – the first he had ever suffered, his mother said – drove the family out of their minds.
“We saw him stiffening out and his eyes rolling over, so Daddy had to rush him to the hospital. It was only last night we knew officially it was a seizure that had led to the stroke and his undoing,” said Mrs Jacobs, her voice cracking as she fought back the tears.
Mr Jacobs lamented that his son never got to enjoy the fruit of his hard labour studying for his exams.
Unlike others afflicted by the disease, Kristophe rarely fell ill and had only been admitted to hospital once before – in 2015. His parents ensured that he steered clear of external triggers.
Morette Wright, co-founder of the Sickle Cell Support Foundation, said the most important method to effectively thrive with a chronic illness is support. Being a sickler herself, she said that reliance on a strong family is a godsend.
In addition, she said that the Ministry of Health and Wellness has made significant strides in treating sickle-cell disease as a strategic priority and programmes have been implemented to improve care.
“There are quite a few things that have been achieved, including universal newborn screening, which means that all babies born in the public hospitals and in six private hospitals across the island have been tested for sickle-cell disease,” Wright said.
The foundation official said that the ministry, since 2015, has also added sickle-cell to the list of diseases for which patients can benefit from subsidised medication through the National Health Fund.
“Currently, within the ministry, there is a sickle-cell technical working group that has the responsibility to improve the care of sickle-cell patients in Jamaica and two sickle-cell subcommittees focusing on addressing needs,” said Wright.
One in every 150 babies born in Jamaica has a form of sickle-cell disease, she told The Gleaner, and 15 per cent of the population carries the trait.