The past five months have been an ordeal for Montserrat calypsonian and family man Steve Weekes, better known as Iceman. He tried to keep his struggles a secret because he didn’t want to be judged. But then it came to a point where he had to go public about his plight.
Weekes is blind in his right eye. The left eye is functioning at about 50 percent. So on the morning of Monday, January 7, 2019, an emotional Weekes phoned in to Basil Chambers’ show on Radio Montserrat to plead for help. He is currently in Canada getting treatment. He has undergone four laser surgeries but needs another procedure. His funds have dried up due to costs he didn’t expect, such as purchasing winter clothes to deal with the frigid Great White North.
“I need to come up with about $2,900 Canadian by Wednesday in order to pay up front for the lens I need for my left eye,” said Weekes, who won the Festival calypso crown in 2015.
The odyssey of Weekes’ eye troubles began in 2013. Weekes, who operates heavy equipment for Montserrat Public Works, was struck in the right eye one day when a low-hanging tree branch clipped the top of the roller he was driving and snapped back into his eye. Before that accident, Weekes had 20/20 vision.
Ever since, Weekes has endured government bureaucracy, legal setbacks, inconsistent diagnoses from eye specialists and financial hardships.
First he traveled to St. Kitts to visit a Cuban surgeon after the sight in his right eye began to fade. “I had surgery but over time the stitches in the eye that keep the lens in place got loose,” he said. “Over time the eye went back dark.”
Weekes visited Antigua-based eye specialist Dr. Ian Walwyn, who often visits Montserrat, which does not have a permanent eye specialist.
Last September, Weekes’ left eye, which had not been giving problems, started going dark. He tried to fight through it. “I tried to stay strong,” he said. “It’s a small country. If one person knows, the whole country knows.”
Walwyn examined him and told him there are some veins behind the left eye that are likely bleeding and would need surgery. Weekes visited two more eye specialists in Antigua. They both told him he has cataracts. Neither mentioned bleeding behind his eye.
“I’ve been to the Premier, the minister of health. If you go to the ministers and can’t get help, where else can you turn?”
Weekes was in a quandary. He sought the help of social services but was told that because he’s a civil servant he’s only eligible for a medical advance . . . which must be repaid. He personally visited government ministers to request help. One suggested he go to England but warned that he might have to wait six months to get treatment. Another suggested Cuba, but that also never came to fruition.
As his sight worsened, simple tasks such as driving became a chore.
“People would blow their horns at me telling me to get out of the middle of the road,” he said. “It seemed like my eyesight was seven hours ahead. When it was noon, it looked like it was night time. But I had to drive. I had no choice because I had to drop my son to school. Thank God I never got into any accidents or hit anyone.”
His challenges increased during the calypso competition in December. “I couldn’t even read my own lyrics on the paper,” he said. “I actually bussed [forgot my lyrics] during the semifinals but I still passed to the finals.”
Weekes said he struggled when he was performing on stage but tried his best to hide it. “I didn’t take hardly any props on stage because I was afraid I would trip over them.”
Weekes finished 5th in the finals. His signature song was Renew My Faith, an ironic title because he has had to expend every ounce of his faith during this trying time.
In early January, he couldn’t take it anymore. So he made the phone call to Radio Montserrat to share his story. “I had to do it,” he said. “I’ve been to the Premier, the minister of health. If you go to the ministers and can’t get help, where else can you turn?”
Weekes’ call to Radio Montserrat did get the attention of the government. Social services agreed to help him. They were told he needed $10,000 Canadian for the surgeries. They gave him a one-off grant of E.C. $15,000. But once that was exchanged to Canadian currency, there was still a $3,000 shortfall.
Weekes’ cousin in New York contacted a friend in Canada and made arrangements for Weekes to see a specialist there.
Upon arriving last month and visiting the specialist, he found out that the retina in his right eye has been completely detached and that the damage is irreversible. However he has undergone four laser surgeries to burn off bleeding veins in the left eye. He needs one more surgery on March 4 to remove a cataract and replace it with an artificial lens. He has to pay $2,900 (about U.S. $2,200) by Wednesday, Feb. 13, for the custom-made lens. Because he’s not a Canadian citizen, he has to pay for his treatments up front.
Making matters worse, a city bus in which Weekes was a passenger was involved in an accident on Feb. 1. Weekes damaged his wrist but couldn’t afford to take an X-ray.
Despite everything, Weekes sees a silver lining.
“A good calypso must come out of all of this.”
If you wish to assist, Steve Weekes can be reached via What’s App at (664) 392-4417.