BELIZE CITY, Mon. Dec. 19, 2016–A couple months ago, we heard reports of an Over-40 football player who had suffered a stroke, and was thus wheel-chair bound. The story we heard, was that he had just buried his mother, whom he had lived with and taken care of, and was grief stricken on her loss, when, two weeks later, he himself suffered a massive stroke.
I heard some guys say it was this short, dread-locked veteran named Michael Sutherland, whom they all called “Maradona,” that was often present and enthusiastically involved in the annual Mugger Day event and weekly Over-40 games in Belize City.
I have already jumped 60, and am not a regular anymore at these games, so the name “Maradona” did not ring a bell; and the name Michael Sutherland was not familiar to me either, as I only know many football associates by their nicknames. I wasn’t sure who the player was, but I sympathized with his plight. Stroke is something else, and, regrettably, it has stricken some fairly young and still active players. One that immediately comes to mind is the late Calbert “Pomo” Usher, who suffered a stroke around 1972, when he was still in his mid-thirties. And more recently, the great Wayne “Hogman” Olivera, who was still active in veteran football games when he suffered a stroke.
Yesterday, on KREM Radio’s Press Cadogan Show, we received a phone call from the said “Maradona,” who explained his plight a bit differently from we had understood it. “Maradona” said he had suffered an injury while playing football, and it caused a pinched nerve that left him paralyzed from the waist down. He said that Dr. Smith told him he needed an M.R.I. to discern the soft tissues, and that an operation could be done right in Belize; and that he would likely walk again. That was some positive news; but Maradona could hardly hold back the tears, when he explained that he was in a helpless state because he didn’t have the money to do the M.R.I., which is in the neighborhood of $1,500.00 to $2,000.00. He said he was always an independent minded person, and never thought he would be in a situation where he needed to beg the public for assistance; but that is exactly what he felt compelled to do now, because he is getting more and more frustrated with no change in sight for his situation, unless he receives assistance from the community. He gave us his phone number (663-5333), and we promised to do whatever we could to help, and the first step was to spread the word.
After the game at the MCC yesterday evening, myself and Eian “Coco” Henry went searching for the residence of Maradona. I still didn’t know who this guy was. We called his number for directions, because all we knew was that he lived somewhere in Kings Park. When Maradona answered the phone, and I had identified myself, he immediately called me by my football nickname, Chilor; and when I told him I was not sure of his identity, he assured me that I was quite familiar with him, from way back. “Da me, Corto, man!” And immediately I knew who it was. Of course, I know “Corto” from way back; from back in Belmopan in the mid-seventies, actually. But I never knew when he later picked up the nickname of “Maradona” after he moved to Belize City.
We found his home, a well-constructed two flat cement structure on 4th Street. Maradona met us at the doorway after we had climbed the flight of stairs to the upper flat. Shirtless and his dreads wrapped in a nylon cloth on top of his head, there was no hint of illness in his animated conversation and the physical appearance of his still strong upper torso; but Maradona was in a wheel chair, and explained that he recently made the mistake of easing down onto the sofa for a while to watch T.V.; and he couldn’t get himself up back into the wheel chair, until some brothers doing some work next door came to his rescue and set him back in the chair. He said he lives alone in the house; he can maneuver into his bed and back into the wheel chair, because they are almost the same level. And he moves around the house, prepares his own food, and cooks on the stove, all from his wheel chair. But loneliness and frustration are getting to him, especially because he says he believes he can get better if the operation to relieve the pinched nerve in his back is done.
One does not get the nickname “Maradona” without any merit. In Belize City football circles, Michael Sutherland had earned a measure of respect, though he was never considered a big star. He recalled that he once represented Belize City in the national competition in the early 1980s as a member of the Fort George United team, which had placed second in the City competition. But Maradona earned his nickname for the pure enthusiasm and adventurous excitement he brought to the game. He thoroughly enjoyed playing football, and especially making a play that would merit reminding his opponent, or “rubbing it in.”
Regardless of the situation, footballers getting together, the talk always comes to football. And Maradona couldn’t resist detailing the brilliance of the play he had just executed in a Monday night Over 40 game at Yabra field a couple months ago, when he suffered the injury that led to his present situation. He said he had jumped high in the air to receive a long, high centering pass; but when he realized that he was at a bad angle to try and head the ball towards the goal, he turned in mid-flight and instead headed the ball back out to an oncoming teammate to take a shot at goal. It was a great play, but someone undercut Maradona in mid-air, and he fell flat on his back; and he may have hit his spine on a hard piece of ground or a rock, as the Yabra field is uneven and not covered with thick grass. Whatever the cause, Maradona felt the pain after the fall. And it got worse steadily. He said, being self-employed doing yard cutting at the time, he continued for a couple weeks as the pain got worse daily. He spent over a hundred dollars on X-rays at KHMH, but the pain became unbearable; until one morning, he felt like electric shock tremors going down both legs, and his legs then just “locked up.” “I thought it was then going up to the rest of my body; I figured I was going to die,” remarked a tearful Maradona, as he recalled that fateful day when he became paralyzed from the waist down.
It is not like family members have not been supportive. Maradona said his sister regularly checks up on him; and his daughter recently paid him a short visit from the States. But they all have their own lives to live, and responsibilities with their own homes. Alone in his house, he gets lonely, and frustrated with his situation. He believes, especially after a consultation with Dr. Smith of Medical Associates, that he can recover the use of his legs, so he can be independent again, and not have to beg help to go anywhere he would want to go, and to earn his living.
Our community should be able to help Maradona get the necessary operation; and time may be a factor, because there may be permanent damage if he is left too long without remedy. It is worth the effort, for Maradona’s sake. We never know what can befall any one of us at any time. Maradona needs us now. He can be reached at 663-5333.
A blessed Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!