Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Renee Newsam: Living with hope and learning to adapt

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Renée Newsam is the epitome of confidence, even though for the past six years, the once active, outgoing entrepreneur, wife and mother, has been fighting just to breathe. Her story, as she sat to share it with Easy, is one of living with hope, learning how to adapt, and is a perfect example of how one can smile and stay positive even throughout the storms of life.

Today, this successful entrepreneur uses a wheelchair to get around.

For her, ten steps is like running a marathon. And, the need to constantly stop – take a break – pause – and rest from almost any activity, is real.

Yet, despite her challenges, Renée has learned how to give God thanks for a supportive husband, Jason and 12-year-old son, Joshua, both of whom provide the support and love she needs as she valiantly fights on. She also has a close circle of other family members and friends for whom she is thankful.

Living life

Up until May 29, 2018, the former St Lucy resident and student of the Barbados Seventh-Day Adventist Secondary School, Barbados Community College and University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, was living life with few cares in the world, ten years earlier, following the death of her father, co-founded Blueprint Creative with her brother, Ron, her sole sibling.

As the company’s Agency Account Director, Renée, to this day, manages and works with a committed team of project managers, copywriters and designers who provide services to local, regional and international markets in the most professional manner.

On May 30, 2018, at the age of 35, Renée’s world changed.

Reliving that day, Renée shared with Easy, “I was at the office speaking with my team when I realised my chest became extremely tight and I was unable to breathe properly. I left the meeting and drove myself to the doctor. Based on my symptoms, I was immediately referred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH).”

After being driven to the hospital by her husband, they were informed that, though something was definitely wrong, they (the doctors) could not diagnose the problem.

“From that day and for the past six years, it has been a series of hospital visits, both in Barbados and various hospitals abroad,” Renée disclosed.

She knew she had to get to the bottom of this “invisible illness” and so she left the island in search of answers.

Seeking answers

Between 2018 and 2019, she visited the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital, in the United States of America (USA), seeking answers. She also visited Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA, in November 2018; Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland Ohio, USA, in 2019; Mayo Clinic, Rochester, USA, in 2021 and Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in Brazil, in 2023.

It took some time for Renée’s condition to be diagnosed. When it finally was, it was the team of doctors at Brigham and Women’s Hospital that informed her she was suffering from Mitochondrial Oxidative Myopathy.

Renée explained, “Basically, my challenge is that my muscles do not properly extract oxygen from my blood. As a result, any exertion, such as talking, walking, brushing my teeth, or performing simple chores, leaves me winded and unable to breathe. It’s as though I ran a marathon when, I have only taken just about ten steps. The report from the doctor said that my oxygen extraction is severely impaired. Many of the doctors describe my case as difficult and rare. I also have lung restriction and obstruction as well as a weakened diaphragm.”

Renée continues to spend lots of time reading up on her illness, as well as familiarising herself with the journals of those in the medical field. She also continues to find ways to help herself.

“I have tried herbs, natural remedies, changes in my diet, and supplements. The hospital in Brazil is also helping me to find ways to fight the symptoms through medication, supplements, respiratory machines and various therapies including physical therapy. I am really happy that I have found them.”

The resilient, unassuming Renée recalled how she desperately searched to find a doctor at the South American hospital after reading a journal the doctor had written.

“I literally hunted her down. I even called the hospital and asked to speak with her, but I was told I couldn’t. I left my contact information and eventually I was able to make contact with her,” Renée disclosed.

Renée now uses a wheelchair, but she is by no means wheelchair bound. It simply became a necessity six years ago. She confessed that initially, it was “very frustrating” and she never liked the idea of leaving home and using the wheelchair in public. But now she is “okay” with going out to dinner or otherwise socialising with friends or meeting with clients. She also does not dwell on her situation.

“I use a wheelchair to help me get around and because I now understand my illness, I am able to manage it much better. My husband pushes the wheelchair, since I am unable to do so, and I use a scooter to get around the house. If I have to go up a flight of stairs, I jump on my husband’s or my brother’s back and they climb the stairs with me clinging on. I treat it like an adventure. I basically have made the necessary adaptions in my home, so I can conserve my energy. My colleagues and my clients are extremely understanding. I am also at the stage where I do not question my illness.

I believe it has happened for a reason. For one thing, it has definitely caused me to show empathy to others. I also try to stay thankful and focused on my many blessings. I told myself to love myself through the challenges and to embrace the good around me.”

Friends and family members are often amazed at the mental, emotional and spiritual strength Renée possesses, but she knows it is the peace of God which helps her to face each day. While in Brazil for medical tests, she was studying her morning devotion as she does every day, and on the day of her first visit to the hospital, her devotion was on the text Joshua 1:9. When she got to the hospital, the first nurse who attended to her had the very same Bible text tattooed on her arm. It was as if God was telling her, “Don’t worry, I got your back!”

Could have been worse

“Some persons tell me they could not go through what I am going through and still be so positive.

I tell them it could have been worse and that other people go through worse things.”

Renée also encouraged people to be more empathetic to others, noting that sometimes, onlookers can’t tell simply by looking whether someone is going through a challenge – whether that challenge is a physical “invisible illness,” an emotional challenge, or a mental health challenge.

“I am thankful for the peace I have. I am not giving up, though. I will keep finding ways to improve,” an assertive and brave Renée said.

“I do not dwell on anything for too long, especially as it pertains to my situation. I try to pull my weight and do what I have to do. There is still some difficulty accessing places which are not wheelchair accessible and I look forward to seeing more places making this possible,” Renée stressed.

Part of her adaptation involves spending most time working remotely just so she can conserve energy. In addition, Renée continues to live in faith.

“I am looking forward to doing those things I once used to do. I look forward to driving again, and being independent. I look forward to singing again. I look forward also to using my story – my experiences – to inspire others who may be having challenges. I do not feel sad. I focus on the positive. I can sit down and wallow in my situation, but I do not,” the business executive said.

With her positive outlook, attitude and belief that one day she’ll be fine again, Renée lives in faith, knowing that with God, all things are possible. (CH)

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