Monday, January 31, 2022

The enigmatic Jayson D'Gomes

 The mysterious Jayson D'Gomes

Another yarn ... believe it or not!

JAYSON D’GOMES was that rare breed of young men who are made for success. He was a child prodigy, a quick learner, success was going to be his destiny in whatever field of life he chose to excel. At a very young age, his sports teacher/coach recognised him as a potential who could wear the national colours in hockey, cricket, soccer and athletics. He was also a dab hand at table tennis. However, it was school, later high school and university that grabbed most of his attention. Yet as he headed towards a BA (biology) degree in Medicine, he did not completely ignore his leisure requirements. He wore the colours of Kenya with great pride, especially in local hockey internationals, if he was that way inclined. He never had the time for the Olympics, the World Championships or overseas tours. He just could not spare the time from his education.

Jayson was born in Nairobi in the 1940s, went to one of the Goan schools and eventually to Nairobi University. 

There was even greater pride on the faces of his mother Lamantina, father Jaisilvan and young brother Hayson. Naturally, he was the pride of the Goan community. From childhood, his parents had made sure he was family with all three clubs but their favourite was the Goan Gymkhana. Jayson spent what little spare time he had at the other two clubs, played hockey for the Railway Goan Institute and Cricket for the Nairobi Goan Institute, where a chap called Lobo was one of his early mentors. His father grudgingly gave in, knowing that the two clubs were the better for sports, since each had several Olympians in their ranks.

His first sort of girlfriend was Melinda Sa D’Mello. They met at school and both sets of parents held the secret hope that they would one day marry. Marriage, of course, was always the furthest thing from his mind.

His mother tried to teach him the waltz, the foxtrot etc. It was just too much. So, he was trotted off to the Bonny Rodrigues school of dancing and it was not long before our hero had lost his inhibitions about asking a girl to dance. His friends agreed he was pretty good at it too. So did the girls.

He got his lessons on how to court a girl from his friends at the club. Well, it did not work out because most of them were trying to pull his leg, in between crumbs of truth. He found some consolation in his favourite teacher: Miss Irinia Conceicao D’Lima, who taught, French and Geography. She approached the subject from her own experience and what most girls expect of a guy.

“When shall I kiss her; how shall I kiss her?” And Miss said: “You will get there with trial and error. Start with a kiss on the cheeks and work your way with time to her lips. You will know eventually. If you don’t, she will show you. In time you will learn.”

It was not long before he was hanging around with a bunch of guys called The Jokers. They were into parties, dances at the clubs, holidays at the coast, marathon card games at farmhouses in Limuru and Kiambu (lush greed suburbs just outside of Nairobi), picnics, fishing trips, visits to Malindi, Mombasa, and sports, including gin rummy and three card brag for money. The Jokers usually met at the Tropicana Restaurant in heart of Nairobi and later proceeded to the RGI for tombola and more drinks in between snooker or darts or table tennis. Jayson was always the first to go home. His father always promptly collected him at 9 pm. He stayed later for dances and parties.

For us and everyone else in the world, December 3 or 4 wherever you were in the world was a momentous day. It came right out of the blue, like a new comet streaking across the heavens and visible to the naked eye, especially its glistening myriad colours. It was a moment in time when it seemed the earth itself shook and everyone who cared was shaking with the earth. It was the day when Dr Christiaan Barnard achieved the unthinkable, the first human transplant.

Here is a historic record: On the night of 2/3 December 1967, Dr Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first human-to-human orthotopic heart transplant in his patient, Louis Washkansky. Washkansky, a 53-year-old man with severe coronary insufficiency, was far from an ideal recipient by today’s standards, being a diabetic and a smoker with peripheral vascular disease. Furthermore, his massive dependent edema had required drainage by needles placed into the subcutaneous tissues of the lower legs, and these puncture sites and accompanying stasis ulcers had become infected.

On 2 December, a young white woman, Denise Darvall, sustained a massive head injury after being hit by a car and was certified as having a lethal brain injury without any chance of recovery, by the neurosurgeon who had been called to treat the patient and who eventually referred her as an organ donor. There were no laws relating to brain death and organ transplantation in South Africa at that time, as elsewhere, and Barnard elected to take no chances. He invited the State’s forensic pathologist to the operating room, where ventilation of the donor (already prepared and draped for surgery) was discontinued. The blood pressure steadily fell and the heart arrested. The medical examiner pronounced that death had occurred. Barnard’s assistants then rapidly opened the chest, initiated pump-oxygenator support, cooled the heart to a low temperature and excised it.

The recipient had been prepared in the adjacent operating room and Barnard proceeded with the transplant. The enormity of what he was attempting was impressed upon him when, for the first time in his life, he looked into the chest and saw an empty pericardial cavity. The procedure went well and the heart functioned satisfactorily. No photographs were taken during the operation so there is no visual record of this historic surgical procedure.

Washkansky’s daily progress was followed intensely around the world, with almost every aspect of his care being made public. His early recovery was excellent, and the team was impressed with how rapidly the patient’s peripheral oedema was lost as his new heart functioned strongly. This excellent progress continued for almost two weeks when Washkansky’s condition began to deteriorate, and he developed radiographic infiltrates in the lungs. The surgical team was uncertain whether these were due to pulmonary oedema associated with cardiac failure from rejection, or with infection. Mistakenly, they initially elected to treat for rejection, intensifying the immunosuppressive therapy. This step was a lethal error as the patient had developed bilateral pneumonia, which was aggravated by the enhanced immunosuppression, and he, unfortunately, succumbed from severe pneumonia and septicaemia on the 18th day post-operatively. (Cardiovascular Journal of Africa)

It was a Saturday or a Sunday in the Southern Hemisphere. On the same day, there was a failed assassination attempt on Bob Marley, Australian Derek Clayton ran a new world record marathon (2 hours, 9 minutes, 36.4 seconds) in the Fukuoka Marathon, among other things.

Naturally, my friends and I were engrossed with the heart transplant news. I shared with them copies of teletype reports by the Associated Press, Reuters, and other news agencies. The world rejoiced but there were others who condemned the transplant as the world of the devil and warned Barnard that his damnation was close at hand. Bugger that, we celebrated the achievement with more than a few Tuskers. Perhaps, the most enamored and inspired amongst us was Jayson. Later that afternoon, after a pretty long lunch, he said: “Hey guys, I won’t be seeing you all for a very long time after I get my uni degree results next week. I am reasonably confident that I did well in my BA Science (Biology).”

There was a chorus of “why what’s happening, are you getting married, off on a holiday, what is the mystery?)

“Well,” he said, biting his lower lip, “You all know I have always wanted to become a doctor, a heart surgeon really. But now, I think I will have to raise my expectations and become a heart transplant specialist.

"I have spent thousands of nights wondering what should I do, what profession, what skills, what university, ... what, what, what. Today I knew exactly where my future lies. Christiaan Barnard's miraculous achievement has told me exactly what I should do.

“It will take many, many years, but I am game for. First of all, I have to pass a University Entrance Exam for admission to Guy’s Hospital London but of the University of London set-up think. Next week, I will visit the British High Commission and after I have the relevant information, I will have a chat with our Dean of the University.

“First of all, I have to talk to my Mum and Dad. I have had long chats with them about becoming a doctor and they have promised me all the help they can give but it is going to be a very long journey and I have a lot of thinking to do, a lot more fact-finding, so I am going to be very busy for the next few weeks.

He sort of retired from all sports ... and we could believe that. It was madness for a talented guy like that give his many chances at fame and fortune. Madness, we thought.

“I am not sure if I will ever see any of you again, unless you come to London. But then again, I may not see you there either, I will be too busy with my studies. I doubt if there will be any Goans left in Kenya after the next few years … I mean they will chuck out all the Asians and Europeans.”

There were a few “don’t be sillies” “they need us to help them run the country”, “who is going to replace us?”, “they will have to give us a few years notice, at the very least”, “it can’t happen overnight,” “you will still find us drinking here or at the Railway Institute or dancing at the Goan Institute or holidaying at one of the game lodges”, “our paradise will not end for a few more decades,” “they will bury us here first”.

The big teacher fella was a little more emphatic: “Don’t be bloody silly …the UK may not let you in,” Elvis Presley, just smiled, and said, changing the subject: “Anyone fancy going to the Nairobi horse races?”

The other couple of teachers were a little more realistic: “I don’t think they will let us stay here forever,” said the tall handsome bloke, “but it will be for a long while.”

The reporter chap was a little bit more contemplative: “The exodus has already begun. More and more Goans are making their way to the UK. One of these days, they may cancel our UK passports and stop us from migrating there.”

The big teacher fella, burst in: “Don’t be an idiot. The UK Government will not be able to do that. It would be an internationally illegal act.”

Jayson realised that friendly banter was quickly turning into hot burning tempers. “All I am saying to you is that you should all give some thought.” It was not long before everyone forgot all about it.

Later that night at the Railway Institute, the big teacher fella said: “Jayson’s folks must be loaded … but I can’t see how. His father is just a humble clerk.” They agreed but wished the guy well anyway.

What they did not know was that Jayson had been planning his move for more than the three years he had spent in university. He had it all figured out. He just needed a little bit of luck, the offer of an initial scholarship and once he got to London, he would work part-time to pay for his studies and keep. His father’s boss, the permanent secretary with a penchant for golf and single malt scotch, had promised to help him. In fact, he made the High Commissioner aware of Jayson’s plan. Jayson’s father had already got the families’ British Passports done a couple of years ago. The Permanent Secretary had also seen the writing on the wall: it was time to get out of Kenya.

If you looked hard enough, it was easy to see that life for most non-Kenyan citizens would end in the greatest heartbreak. I write Jayson’s story after having lived through the heartbreak and having seen firsthand the horror of so many people being forced to leave Kenya. All this a little more humanely than the monster Idi Amin did to the Asians of Uganda in 1972. By then the Kenya exodus had already begun in 1968, almost to the day when Christiaan Barnard had conjured up a medical miracle.

The Jokers never heard or saw anything of Jayson again. The reporter chap moved to the UK in 1974. The others followed to the UK, Canada, US, Australia, Goa and places unknown.

Paradise was lost.

The reporter chap, who had a part-time job in Fleet Street but lived and worked full-time elsewhere, managed to track down Jayson in London’s Guys’ Hospital. There was no time for a meeting but for a longer chat that evening. The longer chat lasted 10 minutes. Jayson was heading in the right direction in achieving his aim of becoming a human transplant surgeon, but there were many more years to go. He had married a Kikuyu girl. He met her at a Kenya Nite at a Goan Overseas Association function in London. She is a solicitor. His family lived in South London, a long way from his London flat. His parting words were: “Hope we run into each other sometimes, but I doubt it because most of my time is spent in the hospital, studying or other aspects of the internship. Good luck and all the best.”

The reporter chap had a million questions, but Jayson had no time for them. Just as curiosity killed the cat, the reporter chap wanted to know as a matter of life or death by wondering: how did he manage it? How did he marry a Kikuyu? How did his family allow it? In Kenya, most Goans would not be seen dead with a black woman … especially one who might be descended from the first freedom fighters, the Mau Mau.

LIKE the stars in the heavens (not as many as that though) Goans from East Africa are scattered around the world. Along with them, so are old friendships, memories and dreams of a paradise lost. Blessed are those who still keep in touch, and remember once upon a time…

PS: No facts intended!











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