Dr. Michael DeShield passes at 54
Dr. Michael DeShield, who previously served as National Biosafety Focal Point at the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) and who owned a private vet clinic, died at 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday, December 20, 2011, at his home in Belize City.
Deshield, who would have turned 55 on January 3 next year, was cremated the day after his death. According to his wife, Miriam, his ashes will be placed in the same tomb as his father, Wilton, and sister, Yvonne, who predeceased him. They are buried at Lord Ridge Cemetery in Belize City.
BAHA staff gave Dr. DeShield a farewell in November and they, along with All Saints Church, where his funeral will be held on Friday, hosted the wake at his residence last night.
We interviewed Dr. DeShield twice before his passing, for a KREM TV feature we hope to air in the coming weeks. The first interview was conducted on November 11 and the second on December 6, 2011.
He willingly spoke with us about his battle with colorectal cancer, which ultimately led to his passing this week.
In October 2009, he lost his dad to bone cancer, and Dr. DeShield told us that being beside his dad during his struggle with cancer helped to prepare him for his battle, which began only a few months later. His mother had also died from cancer.
“Cancer is a big scourge, but it’s nothing to be scared of,” he told us. “It’s almost like part of life; I hear of so many people who have it now.”
DeShield told us that he had this bad feeling in his intestines – a heaviness when he went to use the bathroom, but he thought he was being afflicted by parasites. Later, he decided to do a colonoscopy, which, he said, he advises people ages 40-50 to get done.
Dr. DeShield had insurance, which covered his medical expenses abroad. He underwent radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.
“It’s been like an up and down,” he told us, explaining that his lung had also been affected by the cancer. He had also suffered liver problems caused by a blockage of the bile duct, for which he had to have drains installed.
He received most of his treatment at Goshen Cancer Care Center at Indiana University, USA. They had offered him further procedures, but he decided to return home and get treatment here.
While at home for the past couple months, Dr. DeShield has experienced an outpouring of love and support, and many people with whom he interacted during his career paid him courtesy calls at home.
He said that he had been drinking local remedies like beverages made from papaya leaves and soursop. At the time of our December 6 interview, he was drinking a juice cocktail of carrots, beets, apples, pineapples and celery—no added sugar. Sugar isn’t good for you, he said.
According to DeShield, doctors also advised him against eating meat, but he never gave it up, because he liked the taste of meat.
“Cancer is caused by so many things,” he said, restating that both his parents died from it. He also pointed to possible environmental factors and said that BAHA should get into environmental testing, because people don’t know what they are being exposed to. They may even need to check the water, he suggested.
He also advises Belizeans against eating processed foods, which, he said, causes obesity and contributes to all the chronic diseases, including two of the leading killers in Belize – cancer and diabetes.
“Belize is really blessed too with the fact we have high quality local foods, and it is a pity we are following the American way of eating highly processed foods,” DeShield lamented.
To the generation of Belizean scientists coming up he said: “Follow your dreams.” He urged the government to provide national support for our scientists. A lot of people coming out school have ideals and ideas, but sometimes they get disillusioned, he said.
As for DeShield, he declined offers to take up a career abroad. He said he always wanted to return home to serve his country with what he had learned overseas.
After returning from Australia more than 20 years ago, he had a hard time getting a job in Belize. The country wanted vets, but had no posts for them. Eventually, said DeShield, he got the opportunity to work at Central Farm in Cayo with the Ministry of Agriculture. He also taught at the Belize College of Agriculture, now subsumed under the University of Belize.
Deshield said that, while posted in Central Farm with his family, where they would get fresh cow’s milk daily, they provided ambulatory services for farmers in the south and west of Belize. Every month he would fly with his kit to Punta Gorda, and along with the local agricultural officer, who met him at the airport, he went by truck to the villages. They did this for three to four days before he moved on to Dangriga, after which he returned to Cayo. He did that job rotation for two years.
Later, he won a Chevening Scholarship to pursue his Master’s degree in tropical veterinary medicine in Scotland in 1994. While studying there, his interest in food safety peaked. Dr. DeShield noticed that poultry in Belize and abroad had been showing a lot of resistance to antibiotics, which were fed to the birds. He saw that food safety would be a very important area for Belize, and so for his thesis, he studied residues in 4,000 birds at Spanish Lookout, conducting the field work at the Central Farm lab.
As for the chickens in Belize, DeShield said that there is no worry over hormones – the only worry would be the use of antibiotics; however, there is a waiting period in which birds should be held before their slaughter, in order to reduce antibiotic residue.
After completing his Master’s degree, Dr. DeShield was posted in Belize City at the Central Investigation Lab. BAHA, a statutory body, came into being in 2000. DeShield said that BAHA, which provides services in food safety, quarantine, plant and animal health, has gained an international reputation. They now have first-rate equipment and very good technicians who test both local and imported foods. Although BAHA’s mandate has been broadened, however, the authority is constrained by a small budget.
Still, DeShield said, there is a lot that gets done. He has documented some of BAHA’s milestones, as well as many of his multihued food snapshots he had taken over the years, in a vibrant, full-color food safety booklet he produced for BAHA.
Dr. DeShield was very happy to be interviewed by us on his life’s work, as well as his thoughts on the controversial issue of growing genetically modified (GM) foods in Belize. Even during his battle with cancer, he was very involved and very vocal in providing expert advice to aid in this national debate.
Dr. Michael DeShield is survived by his wife, Miriam, to whom he was married for 30 years, and their children – Christopher, Phillip and Nikita; as well as their grandson Omar. The children and their families came home for the holidays, but didn’t make it home until hours after their father passed.
What was intended to be their grandchild’s birthday celebration ended up being the wake, Miriam said.