Trinidad and Tobago and W Connection FC goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams, 27, said “hello babes” into his cell phone receiver, held his breath and waited.
“Yes babes?” a familiar voice responded, from the other end.
It was Wednesday 9 May 2012 and Williams, the Connection captain, had just arrived for club training at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva with his teammate Clyde Leon, who drove them there.
“Dawg, I going up the road,” said Williams.
Leon handed him the car keys. Connection would have to wait. Candice Worrell, Williams’ fiancée, had just spoken to her beloved for the first time in 110 days.
Almost four months after a brutal attack outside her Jenexcon Engineering workplace in Montrose, Chaguanas that sent her into a coma, Worrell was finally back. The model has no recollection of the incident that led to her lengthy hospitalisation but is otherwise mentally alert.
“I think I reached up the road (to the St James Medical Complex) in two minutes,” said Williams. “I didn’t say a word to the coach or anybody else. I just went straight up the road.”
The former St Anthony’s College schoolboy tried to describe his feelings at hearing her voice but failed.
When Williams sprinted into his 29-year-old fiancée’s hospital room, Worrell, a health and safety officer, turned her head to face him and smiled. It was the smile that gave her a second and more glamorous occupation as a model and beauty queen.
“I can’t explain the feeling that came over me,” Williams told Wired868.com. “It’s like I expected the moment but I wasn’t prepared for it.”
The circumstances were very different when the talented goalkeeper stormed into the Mt Hope Medical Complex on 20 January 2012. Williams looked at Worrell on a bed and was confused.
“When I saw her, I couldn’t recognise her,” said Williams, who dashed away from training to see her then too. “Her face was swollen three times over… She was in the same clothes (as when she left home) but, when I took a first look at her, I thought that wasn’t my girlfriend.”
Even now, Worrell’s evening on the 20th of January remains a mystery.
One of her co-workers said they sat down in a taxi for the Chaguanas hub when Worrell, who kept the office’s keys, discovered her cell phone was missing. She got out alone and walked back to work. It was about 5 pm.
Roughly 25 minutes later, the owner at a re-upholstering company downstairs from the Jenexcon office heard an odd noise. He sent a worker to investigate. It was, the worker reported, some guy dragging something.
Another minute elapsed as the boss subconsciously chewed on the unsatisfactory answer.
“Where is Candice?” he asked, as he remembered seeing her walk upstairs. “Go and see.”
As the worker headed towards the Jenexcon office, he passed a man in a green jersey.
“Go and see what happened to that girl,” said the stranger, “like somebody beat her up.”
The worker, who claimed to be unable to recognise the strange man, found Worrell lying unconscious in a pool of blood. Her jaw was broken in two places and her cheekbone was shattered. Her phone and wallet were missing and are considered stolen.
She spent the weekend at Mt Hope before moving to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) at St Clair Medical where she spent the next three weeks. She moved to St Clair’s HDU (High Dependency Unit) next and then to St James.
“Candice is the strongest person I know,” Williams told Wired868, three months ago, “that is why I am convinced she will fight through this. She is a fighter…”
But progress for the Pleasantville girl was slow. By the first week in February, Worrell had begun opening her eyes but there were only blank stares that the doctors described as involuntary actions.
Her 29th birthday, on 8 February 2012, passed with little hint that she understood the day’s significance. But Worrell stunned her sister, Tricia Worrell, by fixing her gaze on daughter Nevaeh and following her around the room with her eyes on March 10, which was Nevaeh’s first birthday.
On 17 March 2012, Worrell was allowed to spend the weekend at her Couva home for the first time. She could breathe on her own by then although she still ate through a tube and wasn’t fully awakened.
“It felt like a year that she wasn’t there,” said Williams.
In the next week, Worrell made eye contact with Williams for the first time since the assault although he could not tell whether she recognised him. The doctors were pleased with her progress but Williams was frustrated.
“I was so discouraged,” he said. “I was so hopeful for a quick, full recovery but that just made it even harder. My spirit went to two different extremes.”
He credited his friends for helping him through those difficult days. One friend spoke about the power of faith and prayer in such times and he began slipping away on Sunday evenings to the St Paul’s RC church in Couva.
“From the first time I went, I just felt fresh,” said Williams. “I would sit in church and listen and the whole aura of the church was just cleansing. I felt something I didn’t feel in a while…
“From that experience, I just knew the day was coming that would bring her back.”
But Williams was struggling between the poles of hope and despair.
On Tuesday, Susan phoned and swore her daughter spoke to her at the hospital before falling back into silence. But Williams thought stress had played a cruel trick on Susan.
Susan called again on Wednesday and said Worrell was sitting up and asking for things.
“Really?” asked Williams, who was still doubtful. “Can you put her on the phone?”
Minutes later, he was speeding to St James in Leon’s car. Life has been on fast-forward for him ever since.
“From Wednesday to now there has been so much progress,” he said. “She is helping us to put on her clothes and brush her teeth and she is trying to stretch her leg on her on and so on.”
Thus far, Worrell, who must learn to use her limbs again and still has meals through a tube, has no recollection of the incident on 20 January 2012.
“That could be good and bad,” said Williams. “I am glad she doesn’t have to live with the trauma (of that memory) but then we still don’t know what happened and the person who did it.”
Today at 6 pm, Connection faces Caledonia AIA in the Digicel Pro Bowl semifinals at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella.
Williams has channeled his emotions into his club duties this season as he led a youthful Connection to the 2011/12 Digicel Pro League title and, on Tuesday, he helped book Connection’s place in the final rung of the Caribbean Club Championship. But now Williams, who played professionally in Belgium and Hungary with White Star Woluwé and Ferencvaros respectively, just wants to be with his fiancée.
“For the first time, I can’t wait until the season finishes,” said Williams. “I just want to be around Candice now. Maybe I will ask for time off tomorrow… I think I did more than enough considering the circumstances.”
Connection has been helpful throughout. Club owner David John Williams—no relation—regularly allowed his captain use of the company vehicle to shuttle between the training ground and the hospital.
The goalkeeper was touched too by the public’s response.
There were donations from DirecTV North East Stars, All Sport Promotions and Soca Warriors Online as well as support from colleagues in football like ex-TTFF technical director Lincoln “Tiger” Phillip and a bevy of 2006 World Cup players like Stoke City striker Kenwyne Jones, Ipswich Town wingback Carlos Edwards, ESPN commentator Shaka Hislop, ex-Glasgow Rangers stand-out Marvin Andrews, former Dundee goalkeeper Kelvin Jack and former Gillingham defender Brent Sancho.
Jones, Sancho and Williams are planning a big charity match for next month and the goalkeeper is inviting the public to contact him with ideas and offers for the event. Williams will lead out a Jan-Michael XI against a Soca Warriors XI and some exciting guest appearances are expected.
First, though, he is looking forward to spending the weekend with his fiancée.
“It is going to be the best mother’s day ever!” he said.
Worrell is certainly doing her part to make it special.
Editor’s Note: Candice Worrell is almost back to her full powers although she still walks with a slight limp. Jan-Michael Williams has changed football clubs since the incident and now plays for Central FC.
Last year, Williams was named on a CONCACAF shortlist for the Confederation’s Goalkeeper of the Year award after his stellar performances for Trinidad and Tobago in the 2013 Gold Cup competition.
A former boxer was arrested and charged for Worrell’s assault.