Teen is inspired to become a doctor after life-changing care at Boston Shriners Hospital
These days, Rickey spends his time deep into his studies at the University of Guyana. The 17-year-old is pursuing a degree in biology and is on his way to achieving his dream of becoming a medical doctor. Just over five years ago, this goal would have seemed impossible after an unthinkable and devastating burn injury left Rickey fighting for his life.
Rickey was 11 and living with his father in Guyana when the man came home angry and intoxicated. Rickey tried to calm him and his father flew into a rage, deliberately dousing him with an accelerant and striking a match. Locked in the house and engulfed in flames, Rickey managed to kick down the door and climb over a fence to seek help.
Admitted to the local hospital, Rickey lay unconscious for days while his mother, Shanta, stayed by his bedside. Conditions were poor. For weeks, Rickey received very little medical care. His bandages were not changed or cleaned, and once he regained consciousness, he could barely move. He was in dire condition. This occurred during the 2015 elections in his country, and outside the hospital there was frightening political upheaval, looting and violence. Many doctors refused to come in because of the ongoing political unrest.
Shanta kept vigil, crying, barely sleeping and refusing to leave the hospital for fear her son would die. She gained the notice of a woman who worked in the lab who encouraged her to seek care for Rickey outside of Guyana. This caring stranger taught Shanta how to use a computer, and she began her quest to find lifesaving treatment for her son. She contacted agencies in Australia, Trinidad, Tobago and India, but time and again she learned that the care would cost money she did not have. And then Shanta found the woman she calls the angel of this story.
Tanya Sorkin is the chief program officer at the Children's Burn Foundation in California. Tanya helped Shanta, Rickey and his younger brother Javin obtain visas, paving the way for Rickey to come to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Boston where care is provided regardless of a family’s ability to pay. The burn foundation paid for their travel and provided gift cards for meals and expenses. Help was finally right around the corner.
Rickey arrived at the Boston Shriners Hospital with injuries to over 30% of his body on his chin, neck, upper body and back. Scar tissue had caused a lack of mobility in his neck, shoulder and arms; his face pulled to one side and he could not fully close his mouth. Under the care of Robert L. Sheridan, M.D., chief of the burn service, Rickey had three surgeries and multiple procedures during his stay in 2015. Shanta and Rickey were overwhelmed and amazed that they were treated with such dignity and kindness from the moment they arrived. From care manager Melissa Brown to child life specialist Rebecca Wildes, to the young nurse who helped carry their bags, Shanta and Rickey were filled with gratitude. When Dr. Sheridan called the family at the hotel to see how Rickey was doing, they knew they were going to be okay.
When Rickey returned to Guyana, he was able to move his arms, lift things and play cricket for the first time since his injury. The results were better than he ever anticipated and he is so thankful. In 2017, he returned to the Boston Shriners Hospital for plastic and reconstructive surgery. Chief of Plastic Surgery Branko Bojovic, M.D., performed laser surgeries that improved the function and appearance of Rickey’s face, neck and lips. When it is save to travel again, Rickey will return to the hospital for additional reconstructive surgery on his left ear.
With noticeable scars, however, Rickey struggled with his self-confidence. Over time, he learned to focus on the positive, realizing, “Why think about negative things that will only hurt?” Rickey became an inspiration to other burn survivors and those dealing with adversity. He began giving speeches at his church, in the community, and most recently at his University. His advice is to never dwell on the past, and to spend time with people you care about, doing the things you love.
Rickey described the Boston Shriners Hospital as, “Amazing times 100!” With everyone working in harmony, he believes the hospital should be the inspiration for every health care facility. Dr. Sheridan’s example of medical expertise coupled with genuine caring, respect and unwavering commitment motivates Rickey to become a physician. His proud mother knows Rickey will achieve his dream. “He will be a game changer for patients in Guyana," she said. “As a doctor, he will treat every patient as he was treated. We did not know there were people who would open their hearts and their country to us. A lifetime of thank-you's wouldn’t be enough.”
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