THE KDK REPORT: Even bright stars fall


THROUGHOUT the course of our lifetime, there is an unwavering and universal truth that we must all accept. This truth is that everyone, including those closest to us, at some point will die and life, like the heat of the sun on a chilly day, is fleeting. The inevitability of death is our only certainty. But in the end what endures are the memories of our journey throughout life, which blanket our sorrow with all the warmth of a happy yesterday and provide solace during our darkest days.

The death of an elderly relative or friend is hard enough. The death of a child, however, is the most profound grief imaginable and any memories of that child, at least initially, can exacerbate this pain. This is in part because it upends the natural order of life.

Parents always envision and hope for a future where their children live and thrive long after they are gone and, in the best of circumstances, become more successful than they ever were. When the opposite occurs and a mother is now forced to see her lifeless child in a coffin and then lowered into a grave, the sorrow is boundless. This is the child that grew inside of her for almost a year, the child that she saw breathe for the first time, the child that she protected, worried about, bled for and sacrificed for. So, when it occurs twice, that same dejection is now infinitely multiplied and this imposed agony becomes debilitating. I’ve personally seen this level of sorrow up close far too many times.

Two weeks ago, on Easter Monday, my cousin died three months following his 52nd birthday. It was the second time that my aunt, who was like a surrogate mother to all of her siblings, nieces and nephews, had lost a child in less than ten years.

My cousin’s health issues started innocuously two years ago when he experienced mild chest pain during low impact exercise. He initially attributed it to indigestion and over time he suspected it was a nagging muscle strain. But when the pain became progressively worse and more concerning, he sought treatment from a family doctor.

After a brief examination, he was advised to take an oral anti-inflammatory, a muscle relaxer and to focus on improving his diet. He was overweight, so his doctor also advocated for him to resume his exercise routine once his pain subsided. Unfortunately, the pain never really went away and in fact became incrementally more torturous over the ensuing weeks.

Worried and in near constant pain, he sought a second opinion in the US and underwent rigorous testing. He was told that his aorta, the main artery that transports blood away from his heart to the rest of the body, was alarmingly weak and close to tearing.

They suggested that he have surgery immediately but also told him that there was a high probability that he could die on the operating table. Afraid that he might never see his children again he decided to return home, spend as much time as possible with his mother, wife and kids and then follow-up at the hospital in a few months. He never got the opportunity to return because not long after that, the COVID-19 travel restrictions were implemented globally.

From that day forward, every single day that he awoke, he had a beaming smile on his face because he was still alive. He lived knowing that at any moment his aorta could rupture and kill him instantaneously. So, for the following two years, he got up every morning, determined to live his life with joy and love, even when others didn’t reciprocate his kindness.

He spent more time with his children, he danced with his wife of nearly 30 years and they held hands when visiting, and relaxing on, many of the family islands that make up the beautiful Bahamian archipelago. He was no longer concerned about the things that he couldn’t control and instead concentrated on the things that mattered most to him in life, his family and their wellbeing. Only his wife and children knew that he was dying. He no longer hesitated to tell people how much he cared for and appreciated them. It was a slow, humble walk to the grave and he did it every day with immense dignity, gratitude and courage.

On Good Friday, he woke up and looked forward to spending the day with his family but he felt a sharp pain in his chest and immediately worried it could be his last day on Earth. He wasn’t ready to say goodbye so, wasting no time, his family escorted him to the hospital. He was quickly evaluated by a renowned and respected local cardiac surgeon but was advised that his situation was dire and he’d have to be transferred to the hospital in the US for surgical intervention to save his life.

That hospital, however, demanded a $500,000 down payment so a hospital in The Cayman Islands, which required a fraction of that cost, was suggested as an alternative. It took two days to arrange for him to be airlifted and to cover the $34,000 air transportation fee.

The morning that he was airlifted, he was in serious but stable condition. It was Easter Monday and he called me and another cousin, my mom, his mom, wife and children and he was then transported alone to the airplane. His wife and daughter took a separate commercial flight. I received emails from his air transportation carrier alerting me when they left the hospital, when they took off from Nassau and when they landed in The Cayman Islands.

A few minutes after they landed, however, they called me directly to tell me that immediately upon landing my cousin’s aorta had ruptured. He went into cardiac arrest and despite every effort to save him, he died on the way to the hospital.

I was the first person to know and had to call his daughter to notify her of his death. Telling a family member that their loved one has died is a heavy cross that so many doctors must bear and it never gets any easier. Those moments stay with you forever and it’s why it’s so important to have a support system that you can count on and speak to every night as reassurance that there are better days ahead.

My cousin was always polite and succeeded every response by saying ma’am and sir. He loved to watch movies, he was loyal, quiet, never liked crowds, enjoyed travelling and he was fiercely protective of the people he loved. In that regard, our souls were the same. He was also humble, laughed often and he was incredibly grateful for even the most fractionated representation of kindness directed toward him and his children.

When my father and brother died, my cousin told me that even the brightest stars fall but their light shines on forever because it burns brightly inside of everyone they love. That light now burns a hole in the heart of his grieving mother. But I offer this one solitary comfort to his wife, his mother and his children; his legacy will continue to live on through them and the rest of his beloved family and together, this extensive confederacy of people who loved him unconditionally will steadfastly ensure that his legacy withstands the vigor of time. May we each live our lives with the same graciousness that he extolled in the final years of his life and may he now rest in eternal peace cradled by our Christian saviour and happily surrounded by all those we’ve lost before him.

This is the KDK Report.

• Nicknamed ‘The Prince of Podiatry’, Dr Kenneth D Kemp is the founder and medical director of Bahamas Foot and Ankle located in Caves Village, Western New Providence. He served as the deputy chairman for the Health Council for five years and he currently sits on the board of directors for the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation in his role as co-vice-chairman.


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