‘They called me the grandmother of medical school’
Dr Ivanah Thomas’ road to healing, success after childhood double trauma
Within the space of two months during her childhood, Dr Ivanah Thomas was dealt two devastating blows: she lost her father with whom she shared a close relationship and was raped at knifepoint.
After her father died suddenly 40 years ago, she had to move from her home in May Pen, Clarendon, to live with relatives in Manchester.
She vividly recalls the Christmas Eve she went to say goodbye to a friend. However, the friend was not home, and as she tried to leave, her friend’s relative held her down with a knife to her throat and raped her.
Only 15 years old at the time, her trauma was further compounded a few weeks later when she found out she was pregnant.
Thomas went from being an ambitious teenager to a despondent and unprepared expectant mother.
“The anger, the grief, everything was all balled up together. I wanted to die. I would have heard stories that if you run or jump too hard, you’d lose the baby. So I would run fast purposely, trying to do anything, but nothing happened,” the now 54-year-old told The Gleaner last week.
Thomas said that an abortion was out of the picture as her mother, a devout Christian who was living overseas at the time, objected to it.
But the former Glenmuir High School student, who had just been transferred to Manchester High School, recalled just wanting to finish school so she could fulfil her dream of becoming a doctor. Her unwanted pregnancy had now put a wall between her and that aspiration.
And although the aunt she was living with was very supportive, neither of them felt empowered enough to report the rape.
“It felt like a knife literally piercing through. I can still feel it today. I am 54 and I still remember like it was yesterday. I will never forget that sharp knife-piercing sensation. It was just awful,” she said.
Three months after the baby was born, her mother filed for both of them to live with her in New York in the United States.
Thomas said that she then started receiving counselling and did the General Educational Development Test.
A year later, she was able to matriculate into the University of New York to pursue studies as a registered nurse.
Then 20 years old, Thomas explained that this was her first “golden opportunity” to pursue her dream.
After she got married, she was still struggling with a lot of unresolved issues from the trauma and this was made worse, she said, as her marriage was “volatile”.
She told The Gleaner that her son, Keron Williams, was living in Jamaica and was only able to spend summers with her because her then husband did not approve of his living with her. She felt helpless and guilty.
But when he was 12 years old, Keron began inquiring about his biological father, and in an act of bravery, Thomas returned home to Jamaica to allow them to meet.
While in the island, she learned that the perpetrator had migrated to Canada and was now married.
But that visit eventually allowed her son to connect with his father, and for him to apologise to her and ask for forgiveness, she said.
However, the relationship that Keron and his father had developed was capricious.
During his first year of college, some time after learning of how he was conceived, Keron decided against having a relationship with his father, who later died in 2015.
She explained that she was only able to make that trip to Jamaica because, on the advice of her mentor, she started the process of forgiving her rapist.
Thomas said it took a while for her to understand that in order to free herself, she had to let go.
“You’ve got to forgive because if you don’t forgive your perpetrator, they still have power over you. Forgiveness is so powerful; it’s literally a gift that you’re giving yourself,” she told The Gleaner.
It’s this message of healing and forgiveness that she shared as a speaker at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women 63 and at the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2019.
Thomas is also penning this same message in her upcoming book, titled Paralyzed to be Actualized.
Thomas more than compensated for the interruption of her education. She went on to achieve PhDs in clinical counselling and psychology, philosophy and theology.
But six years ago, she achieved her first dream of becoming a medical doctor. And to make the accomplishment even more special, she pursued this degree in Jamaica at the Caribbean School of Medical Sciences, graduating as the valedictorian.
“It’s never too late to reach where you want to be … . For me to have started medicine at 48 years old, they used to call me the grandmother of medical school, but I was so serious and passionate about it that I aced it,” the motivational speaker related.
Describing Keron as her “biggest blessing”, Thomas said that her son is now a dedicated father and a former professional football player who is very supportive of her sharing her story.
“It was the worst experience of my life, but I would walk the path again. I would go through that experience just to be your mother,” she said. “He is such an amazing son. It’s like God literally took my pain and did a 180[-degree turn] with it. He has never caused me a day of grief, a day of pain. He’s a child that would never back-talk, has been respectful, the best son a mother could have,” she said.