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(JAMAICA OBSERVER) — A first-year pharmacology student at the University of the West Indies, Mona (UWI Mona), says the prestigious institution rejected his application to study medicine because of his visual impairment.
But all is not lost for him, as he has been accepted by a university in China to pursue his lifelong dream.
Randy Greaves, 21, a native son of Kinloss, Trelawny, told the Jamaica Observer that he is not blind but was born with several visual problems, including a condition that causes his eyes to shift uncontrollably. However, with sheer determination, the student said he was able to study his way to the top of his class at Holland High School and then excel in his CAPE subjects at York Castle High School.
After achieving all the required grades, Greaves said he applied to study medicine at the UWI Mona, when he was met with the unfortunate news. He was told that although his grades met the required standards, the faculty could not facilitate him because of his eye impairment.
“I was born with about four eye conditions. I have bilateral cataracts, plus I have nystagmus so that causes the eyes to shake. And I have near-sightedness and amblyopia.”
Amblyopia, he explained, is a vision development disorder, also called ‘lazy eyes’, that prevents the eyes from achieving normal visual acuity, even with prescription glasses and contact lenses.
“So I can see, but I can’t see things that are really far. But I still did well in school. I came out on top of my classes. I got nine CSEC subjects and eight CAPE in ones and twos. I got into the medical faculty, and I would have been accepted to study medicine but because of my visual impairment they said that they can’t accommodate me”.
Greaves said the medical faculty at the UWI Mona decided not to accept his application because they could not facilitate his challenges, and felt anyway, that it was not possible for him to perform the duties of a doctor. So instead of medicine, the university admitted Greaves for his second choice of study.
“I didn’t choose pharmacology, I chose medicine. I actually qualified to be sponsored to study medicine at UWI, but they claim that they don’t have appropriate facilities for people like me.
“They say that I wouldn’t be able to see patients. But who knows? They didn’t even give me a chance. They said that my grades are there but ‘can I do the work?’ Them just write me off.”
Determined to find out whether it would be possible for him to perform the duties of a doctor with his eye conditions, Greaves said he consulted with doctors for their opinion.
“I go to the clinic at the university hospital, and I made sure to ask the doctors if I am able to do it, and they said it’s not impossible but it will be more difficult. The doctors said that I could still pursue medicine and that is what I told them. But they still said they don’t have the facilities for people like me.
“They still told me that it’s possible, but it’s just not possible here. So they say.
Greaves, however, said he is not convinced, insisting that he believes he has it in him to pursue a career in medicine.
“I am not convinced that I am unable to study here because I made sure to ask doctors because I wouldn’t want to go into this and then I am not able to do it. The doctors say that I can still do medicine, and were asking why they [UWI] did not allow me to do it. But they don’t want to try with me.
“I did all that I could to convince them. In the summer I did a lot of running up and down, back and forth from Trelawny to here, trying to sort out documents in order to get in. And after all of that, they tell me that they wouldn’t accept me.”
In the end, the student said he lost the battle of convincing the faculty to admit him to study medicine. The disappointment of not reaping the benefits of his hard work led to a period of depression and feeling that he should give up.
“I just felt disappointed to the point where I got so depressed last year. I was so unmotivated to do any work anymore.
However, the young man found solace in his faith and participation in church.
“That’s where my happy place is really. When I started UWI, I got to like Kingston because of the church that, I started attending. Yes, I am a church man. I used to play instruments but I mostly sing now.”
Choosing not to recount too much of his childhood, Greaves told the Sunday Observer that he faced a similar kind of rejection because of his eyes throughout his schooling.
“The events in my childhood were not pleasant because when I started high school I was bullied a lot. But after a while when persons started to see that even though I have a challenge I was still doing well, they got used to me and the bullying sort of just died down.”
He also admitted that he struggled to see clearly in class and had to work twice as hard as his peers.
“It was difficult in my childhood dealing with these things but it wasn’t impossible because I moved around like normal people, but to read or see far objects, I have to hold things really close to my eyes so that I can see properly. One time I ended up failing a test because I couldn’t see the board.
“But after that I started to go up to the board after persons are finished, and sometimes I would write the notes from other persons’ notes and I would just read when I go home”.
Currently in his studies at UWI, Greaves said he is able to get copies of his lectures and studies almost ceaselessly.
“I also listen closely to anything important and jot them down. But other than that I make sure to get the lectures and I will listen and go home and study.
“That is how I manage to do so well. I study a lot. Sometimes I don’t even go anywhere. Most times I am up in the night reading because sometimes I take a longer time so I tend to reach over things several times to make sure that I understand.
During his childhood, Greaves said he developed an appetite for reading, and later found a love for the sciences, devouring science text books during his free time.
“I read a lot, especially science books. I love the sciences. A teacher who taught me science at Holland, she was really strict and so I found out that when you did her work then you get to do whatever you wanted. So I would ensure to read up and do her work properly. But other than that, I developed a love for science. It became my favourite area and I started to do very well in all the sciences.
Greaves, who is also a tutor, spoke passionately about wanting to specialise is molecular medicine and treatment for cancer.
“It stem from my love for chemistry and viewing things under the X-ray. I wanted to see what tumours would look under X-rays. I really like radiology as well, so I want to know radiation or chemo to treat the disease.
“In biology, I like genetics and then last year when I started UWI, we learnt about molecular medicine, the genetics of the body, and how DNA replicates and how it can be used to treat diseases. And you now have personalised medicine where doctors can now make medicine specific to someone’s genome and DNA. That is something that I really want to study, especially because of my eyesight.
After his rejection to study medicine at UWI, Greaves said he turned to other options overseas.
“They [UWI] said that I should try overseas. So I did and I actually got accepted to study medicine at a university in China.
Greaves was accepted to the Anhui Medical University in the Hefei Anhui Province of China. His parents, he shared, are very proud of him. However, as subsistence farmers, neither can afford his expensive ambition.
“They [my parents] are always proud because I always tried not to go to school and waste their money. I understand that they don’t have it and so failure was not an option.
“When I initially applied to UWI, my parents didn’t know where they would get it from because they are farmers: my father farms ground produce and my mother is a poultry farmer and housewife. And nowadays they haven’t really been selling the goods; only like the poultry that my mother sells, she will use some of that to provide for me to eat while I am here.”
However, to study all the way in China, Greaves said he will need help.
“I am seeking financial assistance because actually the only reason I am in university is because of the NCB Foundation and the scholarships that I got in order to pay my way here. I got $300,000 for four years of study, which covered my tuition. I also got another scholarship that covered my boarding.
“But to go to China, when I check up everything, my tuition, boarding, books and food for a year come up to roughly $840,000, plus the plane fare.”
In the meantime, the aspiring doctor said he is excited to go after his dreams.
“I feel pretty good that I got into this university because now I have a chance to pursue my dreams. I want to do research in molecular medicine and how to treat cancer because cancer is becoming the number one cause of death, especially here. So I want to do research in how molecular medicine can treat the disease.
“When I come back I plan to work in oncology and radiology. That’s the area I plan to specialise in when I come back to Jamaica,” he said.
Greaves will enrol at the university in September where he will study for five years.