Coping with AIDS and death: a mother's sorrow

Stabroek News
September 19, 1999

Within one year and seven months Hyacinth Bandoo experienced sorrow others have not experienced in a lifetime. Three of her nine children, all male, smitten by the deadly AIDS virus, succumbed within months of each other. They had varying approaches to the disease, however, which determined the speed of their demise.

Philip Vanderhyden was 40 years old when he suddenly became ill. His mother was in Bartica, her hometown, when she received the news and thought that he had been involved in an accident, because she knew he played football on the streets. But she returned to find her fifth child very ill. "He had diarrhoea," she recalled. "He was white and thin like thread." They visited a number of doctors to no avail and were eventually advised to visit the Genito-Urinary Medicine (GUM) Clinic at the Georgetown Hospital.

After three days a test revealed that Philip had full-blown AIDS. The family was devastated. The diarrhoea persisted and Philip was on the verge of death. But through the help and encouragement of a trusted friend, Dereck Springer, he received counselling that changed his attitude towards life and the disease. At that point he decided to fight back, a battle that would last for over four years.

After all he had reasons to live; at least two--his sons Philip Jnr and Sylvester. And he was a single parent. The diarrhoea was brought under control and Philip drastically improved his diet.

His mother recalled that he was not ashamed of his illness and would often leave home to share his story and counsel others. "He was very brave," she said because AIDS awareness was not as high then as it is now. She fondly recalled that Philip continued to cook for the family as well as "catch his hand" for the benefit of his two sons. Such hard work, she believes, was responsible for breaking him down faster. "Philip would have lived longer but he work very hard... he was a good father," his mother stated.

While the family was coming to terms with Philip's illness, another of its members was diagnosed with the dreaded disease. This time it was Hyacinth's penultimate child, Shurland Nelson, whom she described as the wayward one of the family. She was not very surprised, Shurland had a drug habit which she thought might have been responsible for him contracting the virus.

His attitude toward the disease was quite the opposite to his brother's. He was ashamed of his illness and wanted no counselling. He had temporarily quit his drug habit but when his ten-month-old daughter awoke her one morning pointing out that her father had restarted smoking Hyacinth became afraid for him. She knew only too well the importance of a healthy diet and a clean lifestyle but her upbraiding only made Shurland angry and he moved out of the home leaving his daughter behind.

He spent his time in crack houses and slept wherever night found him. "He used to live all around," his mother recalled, further weakening his immune system. As a result he contracted tuberculosis, yet he did not return home.

His mother recalls that on Father's Day 1996, she was awakened by a female friend of Shurland's who normally ferried food from her home to him. The friend presented her with his Bible and clinic card and told her that her son had been admitted to the hospital. When Hyacinth visited the hospital Shurland lay unconscious but as any mother would do she spoke to him and promised to return within the next two hours. When she did he had already died.

Hyacinth said that this was her first realisation as to what death was. Three of her children had died as babies but she noted that none of their deaths had hurt her as much as Shurland's. She was ill for two weeks but credits Philip as a comfort who helped her through the pain. Shurland was 34 when he died.

Hyacinth is thankful that none of her sons had to suffer a long bout of degenerating illness. Shurland died within six months and her eldest son Patrick died within three months of becoming ill.

Patrick was 51 when he died in August of 1997. He was at the time living with a woman who had had the virus and had died months before. Patrick suffered a stroke and never recovered from it. Resigned to the possibility of having the disease Patrick refused to be tested for HIV when encouraged to by his brother Philip. He spent nine days in the hospital where he later died. Because of his refusal to take the test, his perceived affliction with AIDS remains unproven to the family.

Although his two brothers had passed away Philip remained active. He would often sit his sons down and talk to them about the disease as he did others. He was the co-founder of Lifeline Counselling Services and engaged youths in rap sessions at their schools. An avid swimmer, who at one time represented Guyana at a competition in Trinidad, Philip decided in December 1997, that he could raise awareness of HIV/AIDS by swimming across the Demerara River. However, when his physical condition was checked by Dr Morris Edwards of the GUM Clinic, both the doctor and his counsellor warned him not to attempt it.

On January 19, 1998, he died at the Georgetown Hospital after spending eight days in the institution. His mother recalls that he fought up until the end drinking all of the soup she had carried hours before not wanting her to see that he was dying. Because of his sterling contribution to AIDS awareness in Guyana, an annual walk-a-thon, was renamed to honour him last year. The Philip Vanderhyden Walk-a-Thon is to be held on October 31, this year. It is part of the National AIDS Campaign and is being co-ordinated by the Rotaract Club of Georgetown Central and Lifeline Counselling Services and seeks to raise HIV/AIDS awareness and funds for the fight against the disease.

Hyacinth credits her Roman Catholic faith with giving her the strength to pull through the deaths of her children. She still remembers having to clean the hospital ward when she visited Shurland because the nurses at that time were very fearful of handling the infected patients.

She also recollected having to leave her job at the National Library because of the gossip and comments made by some of her workmates. However, she contended that she was not ashamed of the fact that three of her sons died of AIDS and is in sympathy with any family that may have been affected by the disease at any time.

In a message to the youth of Guyana the grandmother of 33 and great-grandmother of 35 called on them to be careful and let God be their guide. She expressed gratitude to Lifeline Counselling Services, which was a help to her and her sons; and to her neighbours who were supportive in the time of their grief.

A friend of Philip Vanderhyden, outspoken AIDS campaigner Philip Wiles, remembers him as someone who always wanted to help others. They met in late 1997 when they were both beginning school presentations. According to Wiles, their friendship developed quickly but was shortlived because Vanderhyden died soon after. Regardless, Vanderhyden has left an example of courage and fearlessness to those suffering from the disease that as long as there is life there is hope; hope that your affliction or suffering would serve as a warning or an encouragement to another to make the right choices.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples