Melissa Blair, Despite Battling Sickle Cell, Tops Caribbean In CXC History

Melissa Blair. Photo provided

Despite fighting sickle cell disease, aspiring lawyer Melissa Blair managed to top the entire Caribbean in one subject, History (Unit 2), in 2021.

She did it at the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency (CAPE) level, administered by the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC), which recently announced her regional placement.

The recent graduate of St. Andrew High School for Girls did not only get the best grade possible (Grade One) in the subject. She also is among the only two students in the region to attain straight ‘A’ profile in it.

“I felt so good; it was such a relief to see that grade and my other grades,” Melissa said. “I was in my bedroom [when I first saw it], and I was just jumping for joy. Even though I got the Grade One, I would never guess that I got a regional placement – and first at that… I had very good History teachers. They were just so passionate about the subject that it made me passionate about it as well.”

What makes the feat extra special is that, in the previous year (2020), Melissa got a disappointing Grade Four in History (Unit 1).

“My father was telling me to query it and I probably should have, but I was very surprised at that grade. That year we only did multiple choice (Paper 1). We did not do Paper 2,” she explained. “I actually prefer Paper 2 because, in multiple choice, there is only one right answer and you can either get it wrong or right. But in Paper 2 you can write something, include dates and facts and make up the points.”

Determined to not let the unsatisfactory grade dampen her spirit, Melissa approached CAPE History Unit 2 more strategically. And it paid off.

Her former History teacher and friend, Karen Brown-Chambers, said “Melissa’s story is one of resilience and one of triumph”.

The teacher’s description does not only reflect in Melissa’s academic performance, but also in other areas of her life.

“The entire History Department celebrated with Melissa because of all that she overcame, from personal challenges to learning online, moving into the COVID-19 pandemic and still coming out with the number-one place [in the Caribbean]. It continues to floor me; it is such an outstanding achievement,” added Brown-Chambers.

As a sickler, Melissa has had many battles with the disease from childhood, with her most recent being early this year.

One of the defining moments of her childhood was fighting the disease just before she sat the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) in 2014 and being hospitalised along with her mother and sister.

“Melissa was the first one to come out and when she started back school she was still having pain in her legs, but we had crutches and Melissa would use her crutches to go to school because she wanted to be at school (Excelsior Primary),” said her father Hugh Blair.

After being released from hospital, the then 11-year-old Melissa had to catch up on her lessons and prepare to sit GSAT exams in roughly a month. However, she got another major blow when her mother passed away just days before her first GSAT exam.

Melissa said: “I was aware that my mother was sick, but I was of the impression that everything was going to be okay; she would come out of the hospital and everything would be fine. During the exams I was thinking about her… And I was having a sickle-cell crisis on one of the days of the exams. That was very difficult for me. It was so bad that the principal had to come at around 15-minute intervals to walk me around the block.”

The pain followed Melissa into high school.

Her father recalled: “There was a time she had to be hospitalised while in high school because of the pain from sickle cell. She did swimming at the time; they teach it at the high school. And there was probably a competition that day and she exerted more than normal. She was fine during the day, but in the night it was severe, excruciating pain. And I could not touch her, hold her, or lift her up and I had to get her to the hospital via ambulance.”

Melissa, despite the setbacks, always managed to settle into her classes and catch up on what she had missed.

She is now attending a tertiary institution in the United States, where she maintains a positive attitude. Despite still battling bouts of illness, she expresses gratitude through it all.

“I would just like to thank God, my father, my teacher and everyone who supported and helped me along my journey. I could not have made it this far without them,” she said.

Melissa advised other students preparing for exams to prioritize schoolwork, make use of resources in the form of past-paper questions, practice, and avoid procrastinating.

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