VIDEO: Disability? What disability?

VIDEO: Disability? What disability?

Shane Chambers shakes off polio affliction to run professional plumbing and electrical business


Saturday, February 07, 2015

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People who know Shane Chambers admit that he earned their admiration with his ready smile, zest for life, and professional approach to his job as a plumber.

But even more compelling is his refusal to be overcome by his disability.

Chambers is a paraplegic, having been one of the 60 cases of paralytic poliomyelitis in the parish of St James in 1982.

"When I was growing up I did not feel like a victim," Chambers explains. "There I was in the care of the great Professor John Golding. I literally grew up under his guidance at the Mona Rehabilitation Centre (now the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre). I subsequently attended Hope Valley Experimental School, which led me on the path to survive and excel."

He speaks enthusiastically about learning to swim, inspired by athletes at the centre; and competing at the Paraplegic Olympics in Sydney, Australia in 2000.

"I didn't win. However, I did my best and improved my personal time," he relates. "I also competed in a wheelchair marathon in Jamaica, and the 26.25-kilometre marathon in New York in 1999, 2000 and 2001."

One of his major triumphs, he says, was competing in a bodybuilding competition with able-bodied contestants in 2000 and 2001.

Few Jamaicans readily recall the second polio outbreak in Jamaica in 1982, which followed the original epidemic in 1954. However, Dr Deanna Ashley, the then senior medical officer who was spearheading the immunisation programme at the Ministry of Health, remembers.

"While that outbreak was not as severe as the one in 1954, 44 of the 60 persons affected were children, who were not immunised against the virus; and 75 per cent of the cases were in the parish of St James," she explains.

Fortunately, what made the difference, Dr Ashley points out, was that the Ministry of Health was in the process of upgrading its "expanded programme of immunisation" in association with the United Nations Children's Fund. In addition, the Mona Rehabilitation Centre was already established with Professor Golding at its helm.

"As a result, we were able to respond quickly and to relocate the children from St James to the Mona Rehabilitation Centre, in the Corporate Area, where their needs were addressed," Dr Ashley relates.

"We immediately started polio immunisation to curb the polio epidemic and, subsequently, introduced regulations making immunisation of children compulsory in order to protect them from the common childhood diseases that occur in Jamaica," she adds.

Naturally, in the context of medical crises, the names of those whose lives are impacted rarely emerge in the headlines, except in instances when they excel.

Chambers is one such case, as he has emerged to survive against all odds and, in addition to his skills as a plumber, is now a competent electrician and the proprietor of Alliance Electrical Plumbing & Maintenance Service, which boasts the tagline, 'Honest, Reliable, Affordable'.

Shane was born on December 26, 1979 to Gloria Swell and Kenneth Chambers, who worked as a cook and waiter, respectively, in the tourism industry in Montego Bay. He is the last of five children in his family.

He only realised much later in his life that at two years and six months old he was the only child in his family who was not immunised.

"At first, when I learned about immunisation, I was angry," he says quietly. "However, what was empowering for me was that, during my time at the Mona Rehab Centre and Hope Valley Experimental School, Sir John helped me to accept that what was seen as my 'disability'... with my own focus and determination, could be the basis on which I could excel."

He returned to Montego Bay and spent three years at St James High School before making his way back to Kingston to pursue his dream of participating in sports.

To support himself, he taught swimming, maintained pools and repaired telephones. During his nine-year stint at SuperValue on Old Hope Road he was exposed to plumbing materials and decided to learn the trade.

"It was a natural transition. I studied on the Internet as I pursued odd jobs, carrying out home maintenance projects for clients who were doctors and lawyers; and I subsequently decided to set up a company," he recalls.

"That was how Electrical Plumbing & Maintenance Service was established, in partnership with Adrian Pecco, who is a carpenter and plumber."

Since 2010, Chambers has built a working alliance with a team of professional plumbers, electricians and painters. He drives his own motor vehicle, stocked with the most frequently needed parts for repairs; and he hopes to upgrade the vehicle to a retro-fitted van this year.

He currently serves a growing roster of clients who commend his work and refer him to their friends.

"Based on what I learned at Mona Rehab, Hope Valley and at high school in Montego Bay, as well as my exposure to the basics of maintenance at SuperValue, I knew that I could combine that knowledge with online training to operate a viable company," he says with a broad smile.

His many satisfied clients are some of his greatest admirers.

"Shane is very precise about his timing, and what kind of repairs should be done," Sonia Mills explains after he identified the location of a leaking pipe at her townhouse and fixed it.

Attorney-at-law and former Cabinet minister John Junor: "Shane is an indomitable character to have overcome his challenges and perform in the manner he does. I met him at SuperValue and he is a fine young man with a toughness of spirit... who is honest and hardworking."

Dental surgeon Dr Lawson Myers shares similar sentiments. "When I think of Shane, it is usually because I have a need for someone who is reliable, responsible and trustworthy," says Dr Myers. "If he is a part of any project, I can relax because I know that it will be a job well done. Shane's disability? What disability? He sees himself as limitless and so do I."

Chambers now lives in August Town, at Cheshire Village, an integrated community of 21 housing units which caters to able-bodied and disabled ex-patients of the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre.

"I feel very connected to that location in the Corporate Area," Chambers shares.

The Village was built in 1970 and is designed on the Cheshire Homes concept introduced by Sir Leonard Cheshire in England after World Word II.

Chambers is highly appreciative of the confidence his clients display in him. "That keeps me balanced, and encourages me to always do my best," he maintains.

"And now I have decided that I want to do something to support the Ministry of Health in its ongoing immunisation programme," he says. "I want to assist in advising parents how important it is to have their children immunised... and how critical the first series of vaccines from age zero to 18 months is in preventing their children from contracting crippling viruses, or diseases which could shorten their lives."

— Carmen Tipling is a communications consultant, veteran journalist and was the longest-serving treasurer of the Press Association of Jamaica.


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