News day / SHARLENE RAMPERSAD
Before October 2, 2013, Kevin Soyer was a regular, healthy man who was simultaneously working and pursuing a degree in Communication Studies.
His dream then had been to sing, and it was while recording his first song in studio that he began feeling weak and in pain.
Within two weeks Soyer was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a rare spinal disorder. By then, he was unable to move any part of his body other than his eyes and was confined to a bed at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC) in Mt Hope.
The Mayo Clinic online resource defines transverse myelitis as an inflammation of both sides of one section of the spinal cord. This neurological disorder often damages the insulating material covering nerve cell fibres (myelin). Transverse myelitis interrupts the messages that the spinal cord nerves send throughout the body. This can cause pain, muscle weakness, paralysis, sensory problems, or bladder and bowel dysfunction.
It began with a weak feeling throughout his body, and Soyer told Sunday Newsday he was initially diagnosed with dengue.
“I was at the University of the West Indies (UWI) at the time and I went to the campus clinic, where the doctor advised me to go to a public health centre and get tested for dengue,” Soyer said. “I went to the St Joseph clinic where the doctor told me he wouldn’t do a dengue test because I did not have a fever, so he gave some tablets and sent me home.”
One week later, Soyer began to feel a tingling sensation in his legs.
By the next morning, when he tried to get out of bed, he fell several times and realised he could not stand.
“I was taken to the hospital and warded, and they kept me from Wednesday until Friday night just under observation. By Saturday morning, the only thing I could move were my eyes. My entire body was paralysed.”
Soyer’s family was notified as doctors feared the 25-year-old did not have long to live.
It was only when an emergency MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) was done and fluid was discovered in Soyer’s spinal cord were doctors able to properly diagnose him.
It was a harsh reality for him to face.
“I felt like my life was over. Doctors and nurses would stop and chat with me during their shifts and they used to say, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll do great things with your life’, but there came a point when I didn’t even want to hear them and I would give them chats whenever they tried to cheer me up.”
He spent the next year and a half between EWMSC and a rehabilitation centre in St James, relearning how to move his fingers, wiggle his toes and walk again.
Soyer still uses his crutches daily as he has not regained full use of his legs.
“Sometimes according to where I have to go or how fast I have to move, I would use my wheelchair but most days I just use my crutches.”
There is no known cure for transverse myelitis but there are cases where patients have recovered almost fully through therapy and treatment.
Soyer never lost his passion for the performing arts, but throughout the years his dreams have changed.
He still sings but his major passion now is acting. He re-entered the UWI and is completing his last semester before graduating with his BA. He has also resumed his job at the University of Trinidad and Tobago in the administrative department.
In late January, Soyer became a social media sensation when he posted a video of himself and a character he calls Pinky Ann Belmont Soyer, who is his daughter in the video.
Soyer said Pinky was born out of the suggestions of his friends that he will make a great father.
“A lot of people would say ‘Kevin you will make a great dad, and I used that to make this video to show how a disabled person will deal with a miserable child. It was a quick video to poke some fun at the situation, I didn’t anticipate that people would react to it so much.”
Digital comedy: Kevin Soyer uses social media to make other laugh…as well as himself.
The first video was posted on January 23 and it quickly went viral. Soyer quickly built a fan-base that has become enthralled with the adventures of foul-mouthed, misbehaving Pinky and her mother, Shillings, who was introduced by Episode Four of the series. Shillings’ character is very promiscuous and had previously left her husband Kevin and Pinky to pursue her passion other people’s man.
“I’m a fan of dark humour, I used that to come about with my characters and all of the characters are developing as I go along. They all have their issues and their redeeming qualities.”
The show already has ten episodes and each episode has been viewed, shared and commented on thousands of times.
His videos are not scripted as Soyer said he prefers to let his creative juices flow.
The editing and production are a one-man show.
“I do everything myself, sometimes I have to do all kind of antics to get my shots and I like my privacy when I am in character so it works out for me.”
Soyer is now looking to make his videos work for him as he plans to launch a Youtube channel soon.
“As a differently-abled individual, it is very important to me to make my own money, to be able to sustain myself, at one point I was totally dependent on others and it feels really good to be making an impact.”
Soyer also hopes his videos will generate conversations around the issues facing the differently-abled community and social issues facing the country as a whole.
“I think the smart thing to do is talk about something meaningful while I have people’s attention.”
Not giving up: Kevin Soyer has not allowed Transverse Myelitis, a rare spinal disorder, to stop him from completing his UWI degree in Communication Studies.
He credits his grandparents, Janet and Hollis Soyer, his mother Anna Soyer and his siblings, older brother Dominic, younger brother Christian and twin sisters Leiha and Lisa as his strongest support system.
“My family is very conservative so I wasn’t sure how they would react to the videos, but it is amazing to hear my grandmother on the phone talking about Shillings misbehaving while my grandfather screams laughter in the background. I don’t think I would have been able to get to where I am today without my family.”
If you don’t already follow Soyer, you can do so on Facebook @Kevin Soyer or on Instagram @kvnsyr.