The Simon family taught us a lot about love

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Sunday’s glow walk was just one of the many fundraisers held in aid of Andre Simon’s medical fund (Photo by Johnny JnoBaptiste)
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The sight of the air ambulance taking off on Saturday afternoon to transport critically injured national cyclist Andre Simon to hospital in the US touched something deep within us all.

Many of us feared it was a day that might never come, given the inconceivably high costs needed to make it a reality.

But then we didn’t account for the sheer strength, resolve and tenacity of Andre’s family.

As the jet cut through the thick rainclouds, bound for the TIRR Memorial Hospital in Texas, the moment was all the more poignant knowing it could be a long, long time before the 36-year-old returns to home soil.

Few causes have united the nation quite like Andre Simon’s.

That balmy Sunday morning of May 8 started like any other. Slowly, word of a horrifying road accident began to spread across Antigua and Barbuda; four cyclists out enjoying an early morning ride on Sir George Walter Highway had been knocked down by a car – one left fighting for his life.

The fact that it was Mother’s Day made it all the more monstrous. As families nationwide convened to celebrate, for one, life as they knew it had been shattered in the blink of an eye.

Andre had been struck down in his prime, in peak fitness and at the very top of his game. Fellow athletes said he’d been guaranteed a podium spot at the Southern Loop Road Race which had been scheduled for the following Sunday.

The images of Andre motionless in a hospital bed, breathing through a ventilator, were in chilling contrast to the strapping young man we were accustomed to seeing, the Andre with a string of sporting titles under his belt.

For eight long weeks, we cast aside our differences – political and otherwise – and pitched in where we could. From the Central Marketing Corporation to local sports groups, artists to musicians, schools to fete promoters, the nation focused on a single cause: to help raise the hundreds of thousands of US dollars to get Andre the help he needed.

For eight long weeks, we shared in the Simon family’s anguish, felt their despair, and the heartache too when we saw Andre’s tears upon hearing the voice of his young son.

That’s the thing about small communities of course. Their family became ours – and one we might do well to emulate.

Amid it all, one thing shone through: theirs was a family so devoted they would sacrifice anything for Andre – including selling seven of their own personal vehicles to boost his medical fund; a testimony to selfless love.

Throughout everything, and in the face of such pain, the Simons held it together with grace and dignity. While Andre’s sister Beatrice has headed much of the fundraising, his brother Dwayne has been a constant presence at Andre’s side.

Softly spoken Dwayne clearly doesn’t relish the spotlight but has nonetheless made numerous appearances on local media to keep his brother’s plight in the fore, while keeping us updated on his progress.

Dwayne told us of the agony he felt at relating his own deep suffering – and the torturous wait for insurance companies to pay up what they owe.

He told us too how touched the Simon family had been by the public’s generosity and how he couldn’t overemphasise their appreciation.

His voice cracked when asked how he was coping personally; this wasn’t about him, he replied, this was only about Andre.

Dwayne described his sister as “an incredible human being”, admitting he didn’t know where she got the strength. Indeed, others may well have given up on the momentous undertaking of attempting to raise more than US$500,000, particularly when dealing with such personal tragedy.

On Friday, we received the news we’d been waiting for. Andre was finally able to leave Antigua to get specialist care overseas after government stepped in with a “sizeable” donation – enough to ensure the Texan hospital would take him.

Even with the numerous fundraisers, the donations made via local banks and the US$60,000-plus garnered via an online GoFundMe appeal, the government’s intervention was key.

Andre arrived safely at the hospital at the weekend where he will likely undergo a series of tests and scans to gauge the extent of his brain injury.

Once again, Dwayne is at his side and will be tasked with helping make critical decisions as information comes to light.

Andre has a long road ahead. This we know. Medics however will testify that the presence and support of loved ones reaps dividends in a patient’s recovery.

If there is one thing that will make the crucial difference now, it will – once again – be precisely that. 

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