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Statistician 'Kit' Robinson bounces back from devastating stroke

Death Postponed: ‘Pledged to live’

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 23, 2012    

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This is the 30th in a series on close encounters with death by individuals, some of whom are prominent members of the society.

IT is not often that a person who is younger than 30 suffers a stroke.

Budding artist Kitwana "Kit" Robinson, was not only knocked over by a massive stroke at age 26, but has been struggling to recreate his life.

His name — a Swahili word that means 'Pledged to Live' — sums up what has happened to him, and possibly tells the story of why he is still alive. Despite all of the challenges that he has faced, Robinson refuses to give up, he is determined to live.

The only son of lawyer, broadcaster and sports administrator Robert "Robbie" Robinson, and artist/teacher Denise, Robinson, now 33, is adamant that the major setback that he suffered in September 2005, when he almost died, will not prevent him from making a meaningful contribution to the Jamaica that he cherishes.

"I am continuing the fight. I am not giving up," Robinson told the Jamaica Observer during a visit to his home last week.

The stroke seven years ago has left Kit with 20 per cent brain damage and an inability to read, although he uses the computer, plays dominoes and card games, among other things.

His speech is limited, mostly slurred and he moves around with the use of a cane.

Kit at one time had everything going for him. He made his mark at Campion College, moved on to Wolmer's Boy's School for sixth form, and read for a Bachelor's degree in economics at the University of the West Indies.

At the time of his setback, he had been employed at the Statistical Institute of Jamaica for five years and had applied to do further studies in information technology at the UWI, an area which he had acquired a liking for, belatedly.

The statistician and highly competent guitarist, was poised for takeoff when fate punctured his wheel of fortune.

Born with traits of sickle cell anaemia, Kit had to deal with some of the tricky challenges associated with that disease. He had to answer relevant medical questions connected to the ailment and receive treatment to ease some of the pain that goes with the turf.

One afternoon when the bright young man called his mother in distress to relate a painful sickle-cell crisis that he was undergoing. These crises occur when sickled red blood cells block blood flow to the limbs and organs causing severe pain and organ damage.

His family rushed him to the University Hospital of the West Indies, but after waiting for several hours and their not being satisfied with his care, they took him to the Medical Associates Hospital where he spent the night.

The following day, the now seriously ill young man was transferred to the Tony Thwaites Wing of the UHWI, but soon had to be rushed to the UHWI's Surgical Intensive Care Unit.

Kit remained unresponsive for a week. His family had grown more fearful as there were whispers that he may not leave the institution alive.

Thoughts began entering the minds of close friends and family that they were all fighting a losing battle.

After week-long care at the Intensive Care Unit characterised by blood transfusions and more, a consultant attending to the still unconscious man reckoned that something was amiss. A CT scan was later done, which showed that he had suffered two strokes. It appeared as if the 'fat lady' had cleared her throat and was ready to start singing 'nearer my God to thee'.

"One of the doctors told us that the only thing we could do was pray, which is like saying this is the end," Robbie Robinson recalled.

"He spent two months in hospital and one of the neurologists commented that he had never seen anybody with that kind of brain damage who was still alive.

But their son held on, giving credence to his Swahili name.

"As parents we decided not to give up. He could not walk, the right side was more badly affected, but we decided to continue the fight," said the lead singer of the Fifty50 band.

The family got the youngster to try start trying various new things.

"It was the brilliance of his mother that has resulted in this turnaround. She taught him and encouraged him all the way," Robbie Robinson said of the former dancer with the National Dance Theatre Company, who also designs costumes, including those for the opening ceremony of Cricket World Cup 2007.

"His mother has an undying faith in him," he added.

Now Kit is into his second round of the title fight with life. No gloves are involved, just the finesse of his hands that have led him to find new meaning in a life now defined by art. He lost his life as a statistician and, in spite of his disabilities, or, perhaps, because of them has embraced the creation of noteworthy artwork

Kit, who has been painting now for a little over two years, will put his works on display from October 18 to 20 at the Olympia Gallery in Papine, St Andrew.

Kit has already assembled an impressive collection of paintings, making his first sale to Chief Justice Zaila McCalla, a family friend.

"Encouragement for the staging of this exhibition came by way of several persons who have seen his works and have been duly impressed enough to purchase a few pieces," Robbie Robinson stated.

"That purchase by the Chief Justice made him develop some amount of self -worth," Robbie Robinson said.

His art has been enjoying rave reviews from those in the know and he is committed to lifting his stock to unprecedented heights, much to the pleasure of his proud father.

"Before the stroke, he had not shown any interest or ability in art," Robbie Robinson said.

"Kit has used art as a tool of transformation. With the loss of his tertiary education and job as a statistician, his brain injury opened new pathways of creativity and sensitivity to colour. Today his works can be experienced as colour fields.

His son believes that the exhibition will help to propel him along a fresh path of personal development that will allow him to regain more of what he lost because of the stroke in 2005.

"Many times I thought in my mind that I am not going to make it, because I suffered the stroke and I can't really speak.

"The stroke was a devastating experience, but then I tell myself that I need to make it. I need to be strong and say to myself, 'Yes, I can'," Kit said.

Kit will be supported in his first exhibition by sister, Atira, also an artist.

For that exhibition, the young man who always had an interest in wrestling, would be ecstatic if the sprinter whom he idolises would pass through and look at some of his pieces.

"Usain Bolt is my hero," Kit said. "I would be happy if he could come to my exhibition."

The good thing going for Kit is that he has not had a sickle cell crisis since he suffered the stroke. However, he had to endure the agony of seeing two of his best friends die, one in a motor vehicle accident, the other by way of drowning, since he started to grapple with his own problems.

"His friends and family have been a tower of strength," Robbie Robinson said.

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