Tell us the truth!
Geneive Belford had her reservations but went willingly to the Portmore HEART Academy vaccination centre in St Catherine on Sunday, April 11, 2021 to accept dose one of the two-dose AstraZeneca inoculation on offer. Four days later, the 69-year-old was pronounced dead.
She died at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) early afternoon on Thursday, April 15.
Her loved ones still don’t know why.
The Jamaica Observer sat down with her self-professed favourite nephew to unpack what remains, for him, a matrix of questions.
“My aunt and I spoke just before she took the vaccine and she seemed fine; no complaints,” relayed Michael Spence.
“My sister Beverly even popped in on Monday and she was A-okay.”
He said that the first two days after receiving the jab were uneventful for his aunt. However, by Wednesday morning she began complaining of stomach and back pains.
Her daughter, Marian Suckram, with whom she lives, dialled the Ministry of Health and Wellness hotline, as indicated in the literature distributed at the vaccination centre. The advice from the representative – whose name she did not note as it seemed unimportant then – confirmed that such pains were among the miscellany of side effects that could be associated with the jab and two Panadol tablets were in order.
This was complied with.
“By morning, however, the pain had grown more severe and we thought she needed to see a doctor,” said the concerned nephew.
Belford was taken to a medical facility in the Two West community of Greater Portmore, St Catherine, near to her home.
“The doctor there, when he heard it might be vaccine-related, sent them straight to UC [UHWI]. She did not even leave the car,” Spence told the Sunday Observer, noting that they had been transported by a niece, a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.
The journey to the Papine, St Andrew, hospital grew quieter as they travelled, he recounted.
“My cousin decided to call someone to keep her talking, so she called my other aunt [Belford’s sister].
“She prayed with her sister and they talked and then she got quiet again,” he said of his aunt, who reports as a Christian woman.
On arrival at UHWI Accident and Emergency (A&E) Department, medical personnel were alerted to the distressed patient in the vehicle.
Reportedly, after some time, a nurse came to the vehicle, now parked just outside the unit, and ran back inside to fetch a doctor.
“The nurse said she was ‘unresponsive’, so she went for a doctor,” said Spence.
It was observed that she lifted her arm, but it fell limp.
The family member said soon Belford was wheeled into the A&E and the relatives were told to wait outside.
Just about an hour later, medical personnel advised them that Belford had remained unresponsive and died.
The family members were told that no further information was available and they should return the next morning, Friday, April 16.
Belford’s daughter recalled that the pain her mother endured seemed to be all over her body. She explained that as they readied her mother to go off to the doctor she ached all over and was sensitive to every touch.
“My aunt Geneive was a lovely woman,” said Spence, “she had a way to make everyone feel special. She had her own daughter and son, but she treated all her nieces and nephews like her own. We were her sons and daughters and we knew it; she cared deeply for us all.”
Belford was a long-time hypertensive, but was reported as being regular with her medication regimen and followed an average diet.
“Her death is more than a shock. Had she been really sick and later died maybe we all would be handling it better,” he said, indicating that Belford’s daughter had to seek medical attention to “calm her pressure” on hearing that her mother would not be returning home.
The family indicated that, while they are not in pursuit of blaming anyone or anything, they wanted to know what caused them to lose their matriarch.
“Some things just are incomplete and we want some answers,” Spence said, speaking to the Sunday Observer from New York, USA.
When Belford’s daughter and niece, who had transported her to the doctor the day before, returned to UHWI on Friday she was told that the body would need to be tested for the presence of COVID-19 and an autopsy would be required. The hospital then advised again that nothing further was available.
“While on my way home they [the hospital] called to say that the post-mortem was scheduled for Monday morning at 8:30. No results for the COVID test was given,” advised her daughter.
Back at UHWI on Monday, April 19, Suckram identified the body, but was told she could not observe the examination.
She waited outside and was later issued a document indicating that, “Definitive cause of death awaits completion of post-mortem…[PENDING].”
The family was, however, advised that they could engage a funeral home of their choice and have them pick up the body the following day. Burial was therefore permitted, “but they said we could not do a cremation”.
“This raised concerns,” said Spence, “Body released, but no cause of death, no death certificate, and no cremation. Why?”
Nonetheless, the family secured the services of funeral directors and advised them that they had been authorised to collect the remains on Tuesday.
When the undertakers arrived at UHWI on Tuesday they advised the family that the body had not been released to them as they still had to take more fluids.
The funeral director returned later and successfully took custody of the body.
“I want to be very responsible and not cloud the issue or cast any more doubt on the process, but we need to know what happened, what is the cause of her death?” asked the nephew who is himself vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine.
“Everyone has to make their own decision about the vaccine, but full disclosure by the medical team is important. This business of not saying anything does not sit well with us; whether or not the vaccine resulted in her death we want to know,” charged Spence.
Up to late Friday evening, when checks were made by the Sunday Observer, nothing further had been heard from UHWI.
While funeral arrangements in observance of COVID-19 protocols are being pursued, with cremation not being an option, the family still wants answers.