Lost for words – Marissa Nelson Story

Published: Shaliza Hassanali
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Guardian story triggers help for 600lb woman
Marissa Nelson suffers from lymphoedema.

Scores of citizens who were moved yesterday after reading of the plight of 600-pound Marissa Nelson in the T&T Guardian have offered to lend a helping hand.

Among those were DEHIX, an international charitable body; the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC); CEO of Pillars of Harmony; and members of the public.

Within hours of Nelson’s highlighting her battles with a condition known as lymphoedema, which has left her confined to a bed for the past four years at her Valencia home, help from as far as America started pouring in.

Her condition also generated a tsunami of sympathetic and disparaging comments on social media.

Nelson’s heart-wrenching story was published on the front page of Tuesday’s T&T Guardian, where she called on the Government to intervene and provide her with specialist medical care, urgent medication and a 24-hour caregiver.

Touched by the outpouring of support, Nelson thanked the Guardian yesterday for publishing her story. The story was also aired on sister station CNC3 and reached over 295,000 readers on Facebook and was shared 1,169 times by 4.30 pm.

Calling from Chicago was Trinidadian-born Dennis Hicks, founder of DEHIX, who said after reading Nelson’s touching story he felt compelled to intervene.

“My eyes became filled with tears. When I saw this lady’s photograph in the paper I became lost for words. Marissa is sitting on a bed and she really needs assistance.

“I am going to send Nelson some cash tomorrow,” 73-year-old Hicks said.

Asked if he could assist Nelson in getting gastric bypass overseas, Hicks said he did not see it as a problem.

“I am going to get in contact with all the hospitals I work with and explain her ailment and we are going to get it done. This is what I have been doing for years. We help needy and vulnerable people like Nelson. But first she has to lose some weight to make all this possible to travel abroad.”

Yesterday, Hicks contacted Nelson and he gave her the assurance that help was on the way.

To his shock, Hicks said, he found out that Nelson started doing on-line courses in human and social biology, maths and English three months ago.

“She says she needs a laptop which I will ship to her to help her with her studies. She wants to go back into nursing. I kept telling her that a new day has started and not to give up hope. I even offered her a job at DEHIX to motivate her and she was quite excited.”

Nelson said after she spoke to Hicks she felt as if a load was lifted off her shoulders.

“I was a bit angry this morning after reading on Facebook the comments of a few people which were very insensitive. But my spirits were lifted after my discussion with Mr Hicks. I am praying that things will work out. A lot of people called to offer their kind words and whatever little assistance they can. I am feeling so much better now. All is not lost.”

Medical history

In 2008, Nelson who was diagnosed with the incurable disease was prescribed medication which had powerful steroids and within a short space of time she started to pack on the pounds.

By 2012, Nelson lost mobility in both legs, which are now covered in mammoth growths. These growths, the size of basketballs, sometimes erupt and ooze fluids.

Nelson has no one to attend to her needs. She lives alone and depends on the generosity of her neighbour and

68-year-old mother, Sylvia, who is

an amputee.

Although she receives $1,800 monthly disability grant and is a recipient of a $410 monthly food card, Nelson said the money was not enough to buy her pampers, bedliners, antiseptic soaps, 25 packs of baby wipes, bandages and gauze, which total about $5,000 monthly.

Gastric by-pass specialist

Dr Dilip Dan, who specialises in bariatric, laparoscopic and metabolic surgery, said Nelson can avail herself of medical attention at public hospitals.

There might be a problem getting gastric bypass done outside of T&T, Dan said, since Nelson would have difficulty getting and fitting in a plane.

Dan, who is regarded as the top expert in this field, said for Nelson to have gastric bypass she must be “medically able to tolerate surgery and the anaesthetic. Secondly, on a physical note whether the operating table will have the appropriate size to manage her condition.”

He said the hospitals’ beds also have a specific size and so too would the wheelchairs.

Dan said these were some of the issues Nelson would have to face.

“She will not be one of those patients who can have gastric bypass today and go home within 24 hours.”

In Nelson’s case, Dan said she would require after-surgery care, which was unpredictable.

For a person to have gastric bypass, Dan said the patient must be between 80 and 100 pounds over his or her ideal weight.

“Your ideal weight is determined by your height.”

Is there hope for Nelson?

Dan said there was always hope.


Healthy eating key

Karen Deonarine, CEO of Pillars of Harmony, which supports individuals living healthier lifestyles, said her heart went out to Nelson and she felt she had to render a helping hand.

“I will offer my services as a wellness coach to her right away. My mission is to go to Marissa and find out what she is eating and then I will put together a programme of proteins by using protein products.”

She plans to help Nelson with a team from her Port-of-Spain-based organisation.

Deonarine said Nelson would have to consume protein supplements along with small portions of healthy foods, while daily exercise will be required.

The supplement will be nutritional shakes which will be given twice daily to help her reduce the weight.

“What we would do is calculate Marissa’s calorie intake daily.”

Deonarine could not say how long the programme would last, stating that it was all up to Nelson’s determination and will-power.

“But I am willing to go the full distance with Marissa until she sees progress. She must have the strength of mind to do this. We have to build her confidence and self-esteem as well.”

Doctors willing to step in

Dr Andy Bhagwandass, Chief of Staff at the EWMSC, said the hospital was also willing to do an assessment of Nelson’s medical needs.

“Lymphoedema is an incurable disease. It is something you live with. But then her weight and so on needs to be addressed. She has to have medical care. I don’t think we would have a problem seeing the patient.”

Questioned if the hospital can help Nelson, Bhagwandass said, “I don’t want to say yes and then my doctors say it can’t. I would have to speak to my doctors first. We need first to test the patient.”

Bhagwandass said once Nelson visits the hospital “we are willing to assess her and make a decision. No hospital will refuse her. We are certainly willing to help. I don’t think we will refuse a challenge like that.”

Asked whether a medical team can be sent to examine Nelson, the medical chief said no.

If a team of doctors is willing to help Nelson bring down her weight, the hospital staff will make itself available.

Bhagwandass said gastric bypass was also available in T&T and once Nelson qualifies as a candidate it can take between six months to a year to sort the patient out.


DEHIX focuses on needy and vulnerable people in a bid to help them become self-sufficient and reach their potential.

The organisation is affiliated with various corporations, not-for-profit organizations, universities, social services, religious entities, and governments nationally and internationally.

The Truth about Miracle Baby

I am the only person who knows the full story in chronological order from February 4 when I saw the article in this Newspaper and immediately contacted Azard Ali and the parents. I am here in Chicago, and the hospitals I contacted in the US were LA Children Hospital, Boston Children Hospital (Harvard University), 2 Children Hospitals in Chigago and one in Toronto. This was done on your Carnival Monday and Tuesday. Boston immediately responded positively and forwarded the necessary documents to me which I immediately sent to the San Fernando Hospital, Miracle’s Parents and the AG’s Office because the Cross family lived in his constituency. The entire sequences of my participation in a chronological order will soon be disclosed in the media. By the way, Boston Children Hospital was initially mainly interested in getting Miracle up to them without immediately focusing on monetary aspect.


Mom, sister found

By AZARD ALI Friday, December 13 2013

THE mother and sister of a 15-year-old homeless boy, charged with stealing a cellphone from a wheelchair-bound disabled man, have been located with both appearing yesterday in the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court.

The boy’s sister also turned up before Magistrate Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds and so to, the legal affairs manager of the newly-constituted Children’s Authority, attorney Renuka Rambhajan. Upon his arrest and court appearance last week, the boy told Ramsumair-Hinds his mother and father were dead and looking at a policeman in the courtroom, asked her if he could go home with that police officer.

The magistrate had been told that the boy used to beg under the eves of the Pizza Hut and KFC outlets in Gulf City. Ramsumair-Hinds instructed prosecutor Sgt Gordon Maharaj to launch a search with other police officers to find the boy’s mother whose last known address was in Pleasantville.

Yesterday, the boy was brought from the Youth Training Centre (YTC) and as he stood before Ramsumair-Hinds, his mother’s name was called. She entered the courtroom and stood next to her son. Rambhajan said she would be representing the boy’s interest on behalf of the Children’s Authority.

Ramsumair-Hinds began a probe of how the boy ended up on the streets with his mother saying the boy’s father died before she gave birth to him. They lived in La Romaine, but the mother complained that she often instructed her son to go to school, only to return home from her Unemployment Relief Programme job to find him home. The boy attended school until Standard One.

The mother then said she was evicted from an apartment in La Romaine and when that happened, an uncle decided to “try with him” and took the boy away to live in Oropouche. Then one day, she added, an aunt sent the boy to the shop and he never returned.

“Since then I never saw my son again,” the mother said. The mother admitted that she herself also begged for alms to care for her other children. Rambhajan said the recently-constituted Children’s Authority, despite its limited capacity, has followed up the boy’s plight via the media and have prepared a “social service package” aimed at getting the boy back in school and ultimately, back in his mother’s care.

The Authority’s attorney asked the magistrate to send the boy home with his mom in the interim, perhaps on bail or own bond, pending the charge case hearing. But Ramsumair-Hinds was not minded, saying she is unsure the boy’s mother’s one-bedroom home is conducive to a healthy lifestyle, given competing interests of other siblings.

When the boy’s mother said her common-law husband said he would “try with him”, Magistrate Ramsumair-Hinds interjected saying, “It’s not about ‘trying with him’ ma’am, he is your son. When last did your son live with you? You just told him to go to school…why didn’t you drop him to school? You are his mother! You have to challenge yourself. Ma’am, children are not born bad. I’m glad to see you’re here.”

The woman’s cellphone rang in the courtroom and the magistrate allowed her to answer the call, having been told earlier that the boy’s sister was on her way to the courthouse. The boy’s 18-year-old sister came into the courtroom and stood before the magistrate.

The magistrate then noted the boy’s indifference as he stood next to his mother and sister. “Look at him, he’s not showing any emotion…joy or sadness at seeing his mother. Now that’s scary, for he’s a boy driven by survival instincts. He lives only in the moment,” Ramsumair-Hinds said.

Rambhajan told the court that a charitable organisation based in Chicago named Tri-Hi and Dehix headed by Dennis Hicks, had read the boy’s plight in Newsday and pledged via email, to help.

Ramsumair-Hinds said she would send the boy back to YTC until next week Friday, and if by then intervention by the Children’s Authority and probation officers results in reconstituting his family life, the boy will be home for Christmas.

Mom told to seek assistance

Saturday, December 21 2013

A MAGISTRATE has advised Andrea Muraldo, to seek assistance perhaps from Serenity Place in Point Fortin, for her and her child. The 39-year-old woman of Pond Street, La Romaine reappeared yesterday in the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court for the court to assess how she has been progressing with counselling sessions at Presentation College, San Fernando, for an apparent cocaine habit.

Magistrate Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds, instead of sentencing the woman at a previous hearing, recommended the mother seek rehabilitation because she has a month-old baby. Muraldo was found with a rock of cocaine weighing 0.7 grams at Skinner’s Park in San Fernando and pleaded guilty to the charge.

The mother took the baby to court on each occasion and yesterday was no exception. Muraldo said that she attends “religiously” the counselling sessions at the college. However, Ramsumair-Hinds told the mother that she believes she (Muraldo) should seek some assistance by way of accommodation.

The magistrate recommended Serenity Place, a home for women in need of shelter located at Cochrane Village, Point Fortin. The woman is to return to court on January 31.


By AZARD ALI Saturday, December 21 2013 NEWSDAY

AFTER a life on the streets, then days at the Youth Training Centre (YTC) after police held him for stealing a cellphone, a 15-year-old boy’s Christmas wish is coming true. He is going to have a home, after a San Fernando magistrate yesterday sent him to live with his aunt.

Magistrate Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds chose the aunt who attended the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court yesterday along with the boy’s mother.

The mother, who has other children, was allowed visitation rights to her son.

The boy was escorted from YTC and stood next to his mother and aunt before Ramsumair-Hinds in the courtroom.

The boy’s arrest two months ago for stealing a cellphone from a disabled man in a wheelchair, seemed a blessing in disguise, because he once lived on the streets in San Fernando. He begged for money to buy food under the eaves of fast food outlets at Gulf City Shopping Complex. When on December 6 the boy first appeared before Ramsumair-Hinds, he said his mother and father were dead. He asked the magistrate to be allowed to go home with one of the policemen on guard duty in the courtroom. Forced to remand him at YTC, Ramsumair-Hinds conducted a judicial inquiry into the boy’s life and found out that his father died before he was born. He then strayed from his mother and found a life on the streets. At the next court hearing on December 12, the mother turned up in court after the magistrate sent police officers to locate her.

In its very first case since it was established last year, the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago intervened upon learning of the boy’s plight via media reports of the case, and sought to represent the boy in court on December 12. Yesterday, the Children’s Authority legal affairs manager attorney Renuka Rambhajan, who has taken charge of the boy’s case, reappeared before Ramsumair-Hinds and pleaded for the boy to go home with the aunt for Christmas.

Rambhajan said the authority has since enrolled the boy into a mentorship programme of the Ministry of National Security. A private tutor, she said, is to be assigned to the boy to teach him. The boy is to also attend a programme at the National Energy Skills Centre.

Rambhajan further announced to the court that the Chicago-based charitable oraganisation — DEHIX — run by Trinidadian Dennis Hicks has also chipped in help the boy. The organisation, she said, wants to send the boy school supplies and clothes. Ramsumair-Hinds then commended Rambhajan, a former Acting Senior State Attorney, for the Children Authority’s active pursuit of the boy’s cause, saying, “Ms Rambhajan, you have demonstrated to the nation what the Children’s Authority can do. I hope it gets the support it needs to fulfill its mandate.” Rambhajan had pointed out that the authority was still in its embryonic stage, but soon it would be fully operational as resources, including staff and offices, would see the body intervening in a wide cross-section of cases involving children, such as the homeless boy. The authority operates from an office with a small staff on Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain.

Rambhajan said, “While the authority is not fully operational, we’re maintaining our philosophy of promoting family reintegration and support for families where feasible for the best interest of the child.”

The magistrate then asked the boy how was YTC and he replied, “Not good.” He had been detained at that institution since his arrest and yesterday, it was learnt that from November 12 since he was last remanded until yesterday, the mother, who lives in a one-bedroom house with her other children had not visited her son at YTC.

In court, the boy stood upright but held one hand behind his back and nibbled on the fingers of the other. A police officer stepped forward and touched the boy and his hands fell to his side. Rambhajan asked Ramsumair-Hinds to send the boy home with the aunt for a period, during which, she would hope that he would prove to the court that YTC is not the place he wants to be in.

Ramsumair-Hinds then lectured to the aunt about her new role, warning her that she should not expect a magical transformation of the boy’s life. The magistrate began by saying, “The best way to change the past, is to leave it behind. And don’t expect a magical turnaround, for if one is in the habit of steupsing you will not stop overnight. So you’re going home for Christmas. M’aam, you are to provide a warm, loving and family environment.”

The magistrate ordered the aunt to sign a bond of $2,000 for the boy’s release into her care. He is not, it was ordered, to leave his aunt’s house after 7 pm. She is to return with him to court on January 17. The magistrate told the court police prosecutor, Sgt Gordon Maharaj, that police officers, especially PC Nazir Mohammed with whom the boy had asked to be allowed to go home with, to pay regular visits to the aunt. It is hoped that the cops would provide the court, the magistrate added, with an unofficial status report on how he adapts to a home environment.

To the mother, Ramsumair-Hinds advised her to buy her son a gift and present it to him on Christmas Day.

Magistrate to mom of 15-year-old: You dropped the ball

Friday, December 13, 2013
Sascha Wilson

The mother of a 15-year-old boy who claimed he was an orphan and had to beg and steal to survive showed up in court yesterday, but was not allowed to take him home. After learning of the child’s predicament through newspaper reports, the Children’s Authority appointed attorney Renuka Rambajhan, who was also in court, to help him.

The teenager pleaded guilty over two weeks ago to stealing a cellphone but was remanded into custody to the Youth Training Centre (YTC) because he had no family support and no proper address. He initially told the court both his parents were dead. When San Fernando magistrate Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds learned his mother was alive and living somewhere in Pleasantville, she sent the police to find her.

Despite not having seen each other in a year, mother and son showed no emotion when they saw each other yesterday. But while the magistrate was admonishing her about not doing enough to help her son, the mother began to cry. The magistrate told her she needed to toughen up, take responsibility for the position her son was in and set an example for her children. “Life does not allow you to escape,” she added.

The court had heard on a previous occasion that the boy was often seen begging near Gulf City and did not attend school. The mother and his 19-year-old sister, who was also in court, said they were not aware he was begging. However, the mother said when her son was eight months old his father died. She said her daughter’s father was not helping her so she used to “look for help” to care for them. But when she got a job with the Unemployment Relief Programme, she stopped.

The mother said her son last lived with her and his aunt in La Romaine. However, she said, he was not listening to her, was following bad company and was “breaking biche.” He stopped school in Standard Two, she added. When she got notice to move a year ago, the mother said her son went to live with her brother in Dow Village. But “some months now” he ran away and went back to La Romaine, she said. She made a report but she said the police could not find him.

She is now in a common-law relationship, has a six-year-old child and is living in Pleasantville. As a mother, the magistrate told her, it was her responsibility to ensure that he attended school. She added: “There are other things you could have done. You dropped the ball. “Children aren’t born bad. They have the potential to get very bad. The adults are responsible for them, to scope, guide, mould, sculp. You are the ones who mould their morals,” the magistrate told her.

However, she said the teenager and society also have to shoulder some blame. Rambajhan said although the Children’s Authority was not properly constituted, it would do all it could to help and would put together a package of social services available to the family. Glad to have the authority’s help, the magistrate said they had to fix the wrong, “Otherwise it will grow worse. The logical conclusion is he will be dead.”

Rambajhan said where the mother was living was cramped for space but she was willing to take him home with her. She said the boy’s uncle also was willing to have the teenager stay by him again. However, the magistrate said she did not want to release him into anyone’s care until an assessment was done by a probation officer. Then, she said, she would decide whether he would be spending Christmas at a home or in YTC. The teenager was remanded in custody and the matter was adjourned to next Friday.

Dad, son offered temporary home

Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Sascha Wilson

A South businessman has offered to let Alan Maloney and his son live temporarily in an unoccupied, furnished house he owns in Mon Desir. Steven Ramatally, who runs Hexagon Chemical Ltd, read about Maloney’s predicament in the T&T Guardian yesterday. Maloney and his son, Daniel Toussaint, 8, have been living in the ruins of their house since it was badly damaged by fire a year ago.

Ramatally said: “I want to help these people. It will be temporary until they get their feet back on the ground. They could come and see the place.” He said it was furnished and had running water and electricity. “The only thing they have to walk with is their pillows, blankets and clothes,” he added. Maloney, 55, and son have been living in wretched conditions at Manahambre Road, Ste Madeleine, since last November. He repairs stoves and fridges. His son attends the Ste Madeleine Government Primary School.

They are living in a small room on the ground floor of the house which is the only area that is covered. All they have in the room is a bed, a chair and their clothes. There is no electricity or running water. The T&T Guardian first highlighted their plight last December. The National Commission for Self Help and the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) had promised to work to rebuild their home. Through a Self Help grant construction materials were dropped off.

However, the URP said it could do no work because no bricks were provided. Calling from the United States yesterday, Trinidadian-born Dennis Hicks, founder of DEHIX, an international charitable body, said when he was in Trinidad earlier this year he did his best to help Maloney in whatever way he could. “It is sad that a year has passed and they are still in the same situation,” he said.

Hicks said he also was assisting mother of three Michelle Cudjoe who has appealed a seven-month sentence for larceny of a handbag. She claimed she stole the handbag to buy food for her children.

Dennis Hicks renders assistance to jailed mother in Trinidad

By AZARD ALI Friday, October 25 2013

JAILED mother of three Michelle Cudjoe returns to court today, this time in the San Fernando High Court, where her attorneys will petition a judge to have the woman released from prison on bail pending the outcome of an appeal against the sentence.

Cudjoe was sentenced to seven months imprisonment at the Women’s Prison in Golden Grove two Mondays ago by Acting Deputy Chief Magistrate Indra Ramoo-Hayes after she pleaded guilty to stealing a woman’s purse while in a taxi.

Cudjoe and another woman were arrested and charged with larceny of the purse. While Cudjoe pleaded guilty the other teenaged accused had pleaded not guilty and her (the teen) case is still pending in the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court.

Cudjoe is a mother of three children whose ages are six, four and one-year-old. Cudjoe of St John’s Village told Ramoo-Hayes that she had snatched the woman’s purse because she wanted money to buy food for her three children.

Saying that these types of crimes are too prevalent, the fact that violence was used against the virtual complainant during the robbery and the fact that the woman did not recover the purse and $93 and a cellular phone that were in the purse, Ramoo-Hayes said she was inclined to impose a custodial sentence on Cudjoe.

Cudjoe has since appealed the severity of the sentence with attorneys from the Legal Aid Authority arguing that the sentence was harsh and oppressive in that this was Cudjoe’s first charge and conviction and she did not waste the court’s time by immediately pleading guilty.

On Monday, Legal Aid attorney Lisa Singh-Phillip petitioned Ramoo-Hayes for bail and the magistrate refused to grant it. Thus Cudjoe is entitled in these circumstances, to petition a judge in chambers, for bail and that hearing will be held today before Justice Geoffrey Henderson.

Yesterday, Cudjoe’s mother Judy Henry Cudjoe — who is now taking care of Cudjoe’s three children in addition to her (Henry Cudjoe) other three children — visited her daughter in prison and brought among other things, a change of clothing.

“I was informed that I must take a change of clothing for Michelle because she has to come to court in

the morning (today),” Henry Cudjoe said.

Meanwhile, financial assistance for Cudjoe and her children has been coming from many Good Samaritans including one from as far off as Chicago in the United States. Dennis Hicks, founder and manager of international charitable body — DEHIX — read Newsday’s story on Cudjoe online and telephoned Newsday’s South Bureau office seeking a contact number for Henry Cudjoe to make arrangements for Hicks’ grandson Jahvon Evans, who facilitates DEHIX’s charitable programmes, to fly to Trinidad and meet with the Cudjoe family to see first hand what assistance can be rendered.