Battling disability –persons with disability call for better treatment, job opportunities

Mohamed Khan

IT IS no easy going being confined to a wheelchair; but even in their discomfort, Mohamed Khan and Uttamkumar Isurdeen are upbeat in spirit as they search for ways in which they can live life comfortably.Khan, a former Deputy Mayor of Anna Regina and extension officer at the Rice Producers Association (PRA) and the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), was an able administrator and community leader until tragedy struck him on that fateful day of July 20, 2004.

He was riding home after meeting with some farmers at Devonshire Castle, Essequibo Coast, when he tried to swerve from a dog which ran in his path and fell violently on his back on the public road. At the instance of the fall Khan felt no pain, but it came soon after, and was so intense that it made movement very difficult for him. Public-spirited residents who saw what happened rushed him to the Suddie Hospital, and after an X-ray, his worst fears were confirmed: his spine had been fractured.

This was the beginning of a series of miseries that followed. On the night he was admitted to hospital, Khan told the Guyana Chronicle, he fell off his bed and further aggravated his situation. And it was only after a relative who works at the hospital intervened that efforts were made to transfer him to the Georgetown Public Hospital.

Khan related that, at the Georgetown Public Hospital, he was examined by a doctor and was advised that the institution was not equipped to carry out the corrective surgery he needed to return to some state of normalcy.

Uttamkumar Isurdeen
Uttamkumar Isurdeen

“I was told that the surgery to fix my condition (would) have to be done at the Mount Hope Hospital in Trinidad and Tobago, and the cost to carry it out was Gy$2M. I helped to raise the money by selling out a 10-acre rice cultivation I had. I got support from family members and the Government, and all was set for the surgery; but on the day I was supposed to fly out of Guyana, I got a strange message,” he said.

Khan, who was at the time in severe pain and unable to sit up or do anything for himself, said he received a message from the management of the country’s main hospital, informing him that the surgery would no longer be carried out in Trinidad and would be done at the Georgetown Public Hospital.

Faced with a situation of dying without making any attempt to live, a deeply-angered Khan consented to do the surgery at the City public hospital; and according to him, it made his situation worse than when he was admitted. Notwithstanding this, he was discharged, but he never lost hope of getting better.

At home, he was advised by doctors that his condition could improve with surgery in India, but it would cost some $5M. With his savings significantly depleted, Khan sold a house lot and the RPA, the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana (CIOG), the Government, and several generous individuals stepped forward to make the surgery possible.

And eventually he was able to go to India, and after a successful surgery and a month of therapy, he began to feel much better, but his money dried up and he was forced to return to Guyana. In Guyana, he paid a professional to continue the therapy, as the service at the time was not available at any of the hospitals on the Essequibo Coast.

After a while he had no money, and he turned to prayers as a form of healing. Today, Khan can eat, bathe and move around by himself; and is a correspondent for this newspaper.

But he noted that battling disability is just one of the challenges disabled persons face.

“I have seen disabled persons (stand) on the road for hours; minibuses seldom stop to pick them up. Most Government buildings on the Essequibo Coast do not have ramps, and as such, disabled persons cannot visit them for services. And worse yet, at the Suddie Hospital, disabled persons sit for a long time to await treatment. These persons should be given priority attention,” a passionate Khan said.

The Persons with Disability Act of 2010 provides for the protection of the basic rights of the some 50,000 disabled persons in Guyana.

Isurdeen, also from the Essequibo Coast, agreed with Khan and said the Government should look at making jobs, such as entering data, record management and book-keeping, open to wheelchair users.

Isurdeen, a former teacher, rice mill supervisor and construction worker, is married and has fathered a child with his wife. That child is a teacher currently pursuing studies at the University of Guyana (UG).

Isurdeen has been confined to a wheelchair for the past six years, after a minibus in which he was travelling got involved in an accident on the Success Public Road, East Coast Demerara. Isurdeen told the Guyana Chronicle that he suffered spinal injuries in that accident, and doctors at a private hospital had recommended that he seek at an overseas hospital treatment which would enable him to walk again. But doctors at a public hospital advised him that such treatment would be a waste of time and money. Isurdeen has done therapy and is able to move about by himself.


“I want to live a normal life. I want to work and earn an income to support my family. I want to go to the barber shop and cut my hair, and to play Lotto. I just want to keep active,” the young man, who participated in the Independence marathon for the disabled a few months ago, said.

He also wants to get into contact with the National Commission on Disability, to find out about the services he can access and how he can participate in that agency’s programmes. The Commission, since coming into being, has been working tirelessly to improve the lives of the country’s disabled.

Isurdeen, 31, is full of hope, and was high in praise of his wife Kumawattie Ramkoomar, who has stuck by his side.