Yanique Chin has been defying medical science by simply staying alive.
At three months old Chin’s mother was told that she would not live beyond three years old. When she got to three, she was then told six, followed by 12 and on and on it went.
On New Year ’s Day, the Glenmuir High School fifth former celebrated her 18th birthday and believes she has many more ahead.
Chin was born with a rare condition known as truncus arteriousus, in which the heart was not properly formed. With a normal heart there are two main blood vessels leaving the heart — the aorta, carrying blood to the body, and the pulmonary artery that branches immediately to carry blood to each lung.
Instead of having a separate pulmonary artery and aorta, each with its own three-leafed valves, Chin’s heart has only one blood vessel or trunk leaving the heart, which then branches into blood vessels that go to the lungs and the body, thus preventing proper breathing and blood circulation. This can collapse at anytime.
“Three years come and passed. They say I had until 12 — 12 come and passed. Now I am 18,” a smiling Chin told the Jamaica Observer at her Clarendon home on Thursday. “I believe I am going to live a long long time. I am very positive.”
Chin said that she wanted her story to be told in a positive way and be inspiring to other people who may have similar and other life threatening illnesses.
“Mine is rare, my doctor say only two other persons that she knows of in Jamaica who have it. So I am the third one. But you have other persons with problems close to mine,” she lamented.
Despite the doctor’s diagnosis, Chin admitted to not realising just how serious and life threatening her condition was until she was 14. Now that she is aware, she ensures that she complies with the doctor’s orders, and continues to hope.
“I have to take five pills twice per day. If I miss a day I am going to start getting fat and purple,” she explained. “And it’s not good fat, it’s like water building up inside of me and I am going to change complexion from blue to purple.”
The teen, who said that medicine was her passion, explained that her fingernails are darker in colour than the regular person and are buffed in shape. If something is not right inside her body her nails begin to change colour as a warning sign to her.
“So I take my nails to mark my status,” she declared confidently. “I can’t wear false nails or cutex. And once I see them getting darker, then I know that I missed a day’s dose of my tablets. At that point I make sure that I take it as soon as I remember.”
Chin’s dream is to become a cardiologist. However, she said that because of the financial situation with her family she will settle for being a nurse as this will still place her in the medical field. She said that her dream to become a cardiologist could have stemmed from having an inoperable condition to see whether or not she could help others with life threatening conditions too.
“I just love medicine overall,” she stated.
Though small in stature, weighing 86 pounds, she explained that her body produces a lot of blood, sometimes too much, which poses a problem for her. When this happens, as indicated by the colour of her nails, then she knows it is time for a visit to the hospital to have the excess blood removed.
Too much, she explained could result in clotting and lead to permanent damage like a stroke.
The teen, who is extensively knowledgeable about her condition, said that each time the doctors have to pull 200 ml of blood from her. This occurs at least once per month. When the problem is really bad she has to pull blood twice for the month. Now, she explained, she does it once per month, with constant medication.
Despite knowing that any day could be her last, Chin said that she is not worried, since she has come this far. Her only concern is when the illness acts up, and her mother is forced to spend money and the worry that it causes her.
But unlike her daughter, Patricia Nelson spends countless hours locked in her house after her four children have gone off to school just crying. And though she too is positive that her daughter will now live, she said that there are times when her faith is weakened. These usually occur when the child has to be rushed off to the hospital and admitted.
Nelson said that although her eldest child tries to function as best she can as a regular teen, she realised that as she gets older, the situation seems to worsen.
“She used to take two tablets two times per day, but now she has to be taking five tablets two times per day,” Nelson explained. “Sometimes when she feeling pain she don’t talk because it’s like she don’t want you to worry. So sometimes is see you have to see her holding her heart or crying and then that is when she will tell you that she is in pain and you have to rush with her to the hospital.”
Rushing her daughter to the hospital has become a regular occurrence for Nelson, who said that sometimes she would be home or even in Kingston and gets a call from the school to say that she needs to pick her up as something was wrong.
Chin’s last admission to the hospital was in December. She had severe heartache, headache and was unable to breathe properly.
“If she walks a short distance she has to stop and rest because she starts breathing short,” Nelson said. “Last week Friday she was tickling one of her brothers and she didn’t tickle him for five seconds before she had to stop and hold her heart. It never used to be like that. She stop and hold it and look like she was going to cry. Mi start cry, but I didn’t let her see that I was crying. While she gets older and I am watching her, it seems like it is stressing me out but I cannot let her know, because when she sees that I am stressed out she hides her true feelings. I have to watch her and know that she really sick sometimes,” Nelson revealed.
Nelson said that while she does not have a vehicle for herself, she ensures that she gets on well with her neighbours, as ever so often she has to call on them to assist her in driving them to the hospital whenever the situation arises. This can be at any time of the day or night.
Nelson said that she has been furnished with documents from the child’s regular physician at Andrews Memorial Hospital, instructing medical staff at any other institution to treat the child’s case with complete urgency at all times, thus limiting her waiting process. A phone call is then made to the child’s doctor by the hospital and further instructions given on how to approach the matter.
“They say operation cannot help her. They say there is no surgery that can help her,” said Nelson.
“That is why when she was three months they say she had up to two years old to live. Then when she reach two they say six, then eight, then 10… until she reach 18 now. But anything can happen at any time. Sometimes I just try to say no, nothing will happen to her and that God not going to let anything happen to her. but sometimes when I see her weak out and the sickness come on her, I just get weak too.
“A lot of times they see me in the house and say ‘mommy you crying?’ and I say ‘no I’m not crying’. From December to now every morning when they gone to school I just lock the door and start to cry.”
she said, despite her condition Chin tries to do her best academically and is brilliant in school. However, she has had to repeat fourth form after being forced to miss school a number of times during that school year due to illness. She explained that the child is not only talented, but is a good singer and poet.
In 2013, Chin won first place for a national school’s Child’s Month poetry competition for a poem entitled: ‘A child’s night prayer’ .
Nelson said that her greatest fear is to lose her daughter. This fear is sometimes made worse if she finds herself in a position in which she cannot afford to get her full supply of her medication. As a result, she resorts to purchasing the generic brand which cost her over $500 for a week’s supply.
“To tell you the truth is a long time I haven’t bought a month’s supply for her. But she has to have it or she just start swell up. And she has to visit her doctor at the Andrews Hospital from time to time, and each time we go we have to start the day with a blood test.”
Nelson said that she often watches television and sees where persons with severe medical problems are being helped medically. This, she said, is one thing she wished for, so that her child’s problem could be fixed. However, she realises that it is a situation the family has to live with — maybe forever.
She explained that the child’s father does not talk about the condition as he refuses to accept that she is ill. He too believes she will be okay.
But the teen, who loves to read and who declared that her head is always full of information, was quick to declare that she is not abnormal because of her condition. In fact, quite the opposite.
“It’s not that I am abnormal,” Chin said. “Physically my heart is weak and it might not be functioning well, but I have a big whole heart, and I believe that I have come this far and I have further to go.”
She said that if she was given one wish it would be for long life and happiness. If given another, it would be to meet Tessanne Chin and Yendi Phillips, two of her favourite personalities.
“I would definitely love to meet Tessanne. I loved her before she went on The Voice, because I always try to reach the notes that she reaches and her voice is kind of similar to mine — it’s not too high-pitched and it’s not low, so her songs fit my voice,” she said.
Although she loves to sing, the teen is unable to join her school choir as it has proven to be too pressuring on her heart.
“What I wanted for her birthday — I did not tell her,” her mother chipped in. “It was for her to go on TVJ and meet Yendi. But that did not work out.”
“I love Yendi,” Chin said, excitedly. “She just has a mind of her own. She doesn’t listen to bad critics. That is the way she is and that is the way I am. I would definitely love to meet her and Tessanne.”