Over the past month, Jade McLaren has shared video calls each Sunday with friend Miss Universe Jamaica 2014 finalist Zandrea Bailey. Yesterday should have been no different, but instead of sharing a video call, McLaren received word that Bailey had died following a long battle with lupus.
Bailey, 29, had spent the past few weeks at Long Island Jewish Hospital in New York, where she died.
"About two weeks ago, her heart stopped for two minutes, and after some efforts, they finally got her back. That's when we realised that sooner or later, it was going to happen, and God was preparing us for the inevitable," McLaren told The Gleaner.
Though she placed sixth in the competition, Bailey left an impression on the minds and hearts of many with her vibrant personality and fervent drive to advocate for lupus awareness in Jamaica. On her mission, she established the Sydlyn Bailey Lupus Foundation in honour of her mother, who also died from the condition. Plans were afoot to get the foundation more active this year.
"She used the foundation to reach out to other girls who also suffered from lupus. Some she helped financially, others just emotionally," McLaren said. "She knew what they were going through, and she was able to help them by talking to them and letting them know they were not alone."
Diagnosed with lupus in 2012, Bailey dedicated her time to engaging her interests and fears.
"She wanted to show the world that even though you have lupus and even though you're gonna be sick, you could still do what you're passionate about, and she was passionate about being a model," McLaren said.
"When she went abroad for treatment, she'd still model on the side. Today, she would be on dialysis, and the next day, she would be on that runway, and you would not have known that there is something going on in that girl's body that is crippling her. It didn't stop her from living her dreams."
Bailey was also a motivational speaker and recently visited her alma mater, Westwood High School in Trelawny, to share her story.
"It really motivated her. You could see the difference when she left," McLaren recalled. "She left with everybody's contacts, and they still kept in touch with her when they wanted advice. She gave them a drive. When you looked on their faces, you could see that she changed their lives completely with what she said."
Another close friend, Imani Nevins, is still in disbelief over the news.
"I'm still waiting on her to call or message me. This nuh real," she told The Gleaner.
"She is the strongest person I've ever met and is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. She'd be sick and her words would be 'Stop the bawling. I'm fine'. I'm crying now, and I feel as though I'm disappointing her because she wouldn't want me to be crying. Despite what she was experiencing, she always found the time and made the effort to ensure that her friends and family were okay."
Nevins said she would have Bailey's name added to the foundation, which is currently being registered.