Members of the medical team who performed surgeries at Annotto Bay Hospital last Tuesday are (left to right) Nurse Leslie Murchinson, Dr George Savage, Dr Ray Fraser, Dr Andre White, Dr Donald Phillibert and Dr Raymond Wedderburn.Front row , left to right: Claudette Coleman, retired nurse and JAAC medical vice president, Sherika Taylor, nurse in charge, and Maleasa Mauro, nurse. (Pictures: Garfield Robinson)
Aside from a quiet donation worth more than US$500,000 (about $75 million), an American charity with deep Jamaican roots has pledged to continue injecting the sick with love potions and of happiness that will stimulate the healing of the nation.
A 10-person delegation from the Jamaica Awareness Association of California (JAAC) was in town last week – to be precise, about half of them – in a certain rural town in Jamaica called Annotto Bay, at the far end of St Mary’s Sea Coast, not only by donating medical equipment to the mid-level care facility, but also by deeply involving volunteers who are proven in their disciplines.
Elsewhere, the organization’s president, Patrick Williams, led an education team that also included executive vice president Jackie Small and vice president for education Shawn Miller, to schools on the island, handing out supplies, including tablets, as well as items to other hospitals.
The 35-year-old JAAC, which assists the needy in many areas, also benefits from the contribution of New York-based medical staff. A large majority of them are Jamaican by birth, roots or admiration.
JAAC Medical Vice President Claudette Coleman was delighted that the Jamaican government allowed the charity to resume its act of generosity that it began several years ago with the provision of equipment, the making operations, training local medical personnel and inviting Jamaican workers to see conditions in California from different angles.
Due to the constraints imposed by the new coronavirus pandemic, the visit included five medical staff and five others in direct education which lasted four days and was, as a priority, used to relaunch the non or mini surgery laporoscopy program -invasive in Annotto Bay – known widely as Jamaica’s leading center for laparoscopic surgery – performing certain surgeries and training hospital staff.
A second trip for the year, which usually occurs under normal conditions, is being considered by the charity for the end of November but, according to Coleman, it all depends on whether approval is granted by the government.
The now-retired registered nurse said more than $500 million had been spent on activities in Jamaica during previous visits to that country.
“It’s something that we will [to go] back and talk to see if we could come back here later in the year. All we need is permission from the Department (of Health and Wellness). COVID is so unpredictable. We are truly grateful to have been selected by the ministry to come to Annotto Bay in the first place,” she said of the charity which primarily raises funds through organizing events of fundraising and donations.
Dr. Donald Phillibert Jr, director of gynecological services at JAAC, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of labor and delivery at Columbia University, said the transmission of knowledge to Jamaican medical colleagues was of paramount importance.
“We are on a mission of sustainable global healthcare in Jamaica – not a mission in which we come directly to care for patients but rather to teach, so that when we leave we want to ensure that Jamaican doctors take care of their patients. We want to be humble when we descend because not only are we teaching, but we are also learning.
“Things are done differently here, and sometimes we are surprised at the use of resources to achieve the same results with less or with different resources. When there are fewer resources, you need to be more efficient, more flexible, able to think on your feet – and you need to have a great team mentality. You have to be patient to find different ways to make things work,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
As for the staff at Annotto Bay Hospital, the Jamaican-born man is highly motivated by his attitude.
“There is respect between nurses and doctors as colleagues where we learn from each other, and it has grown into a very deep relationship over the years. It turned into deep friendships – we know each other’s families. We have an international group of people from many countries, with different belief systems, but they all have the same goal…to encourage sustainable care in Jamaica.
“We have already had missions of more than 100 people. Now that we’re trying to rebuild and figure out what resources are gone and what resources are needed, it’s more of a recon group this year. In all humility, I am impressed that we have already been able to deal with surgical cases,” he said towards the end of the second day of the mission.
According to Dr. Phillibert Jr, performing procedures laporoscopically reduced the risk of infections, wound complications and reduced time spent in hospitals.
“We have a long-standing relationship with Dr. Ray Fraser [head of surgery at Annotto Bay Hospital]; we brought the Annotto Bay team to New York and California to see our respective operations. The devastation of COVID made it very difficult to supply, as there were supply chain issues on the [United] State side. Now we are at a point where we are rebuilding. You lose momentum over the course of two or three years, but now we are optimistic things are going better now,” he said.
Over the years, the JAAC medical team has left its mark on other medical institutions including Savanna-la-Mar, Mandeville, Victoria Jubilee, Princess Margaret, May Pen and Kingston Public. In the case of the latter, its primary surgeon, Dr. Lindberg Simpson, is credited with performing the most laporoscopic surgeries in the Kingston area.
Supplies brought in are often shared with facilities, limiting the possibility of them expiring.
“We want to make laparoscopic surgeries accessible to all Jamaicans, not just those who can afford it,” Dr. Phillibert Jr.
According to mission leader and associate professor of surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital, Dr. Raymond Wedderburn – a graduate of Wolmerian Medical School, Brown University and Cornell University – he is trying to keep the torch of general surgery, trauma and intensive care.
“It’s a great concept, bringing something not frequently done on the island – minimal invasive surgery – which benefits everyone. Patients come in, do the surgery, go home and are back again. ready to work in less than a week If I cut all the muscles in your abdominal wall to remove your gallbladder, that’s four to six weeks of recovery – so that’s a huge difference in patient benefit. It’s a great idea to work with this project and do what we can to attract as many people as possible,” said Dr Wedderburn, who is also Deputy Chief of Trauma, Critical Care and Associate Program Director. at Mount Sinai.
“I won’t claim to be the expert, I’m listening. At the end of the day, it’s about Jamaica and the Jamaican people,” said Dr Wedderburn while also suggesting that it would be good if other areas of healthcare were included in the future.
“For example, urology,” he said. “Those patients with large prostates who walk around with catheters for a long time, a simple procedure to clear an area would allow us to return to normal life through cystoscopy. We are looking at the potential for expansion, where we can help otherwise Whatever we do, we have to partner with someone.
Breast cancer treatment was also another area the medical team wanted to look at, with statistics provided by Cuban-trained Annotto Bay consultant surgeon Dr. Andre White that the number of women undergoing mastectomies in the establishment was “creepy”.
“Breast cancer is high at St Mary’s,” Dr White suggested. “In the time I’ve been here just over a year, we’ve performed over 30 mastectomies on young women, some in their twenties. It’s awful. We will do a study to find out why. Is it the banana, is it the spray? What is that?”
Dr Wedderburn added: “If that’s a problem, I think we can potentially help. Involving someone in the process to try to figure out what the problem is, that’s what we’re going to do. How can we help? Where can we help you? Who is ready to partner with us? It’s not about one person, it’s about the Jamaican people.
“I’m not limited by geography; I am completely interested in Jamaica. I wear this [Jamaican ID lanyard] every day at work so everyone knows where I am. I am an American citizen but I am Jamaican through and through. I want to come here and do whatever I can to help. My organization and I are completely open-minded to go where we need to go and try to help improve care,” said Dr Wedderburn.
The anesthesia team who assisted with surgeries at Annotto Bay Hospital last Tuesday are (left to right) Dr Kadian Thompson, Dr Sara Curtis, Dr Jamal Hunter and Dr Tareek Montague. (Pictures: Garfield Robinson)
Monitoring of a laparoscopic procedure using a video screen. (Pictures: Garfield Robinson)
Dr Raymond Wedderburn directs surgery in the operating theater at Annotto Bay Hospital. (Pictures: Garfield Robinson)
Nurse in Charge Sherika Taylor (left) sorts laporoscope tools with Dr. Don Phillibert Jr, watched by JAAC Medical Vice President Claudette Coleman. (Pictures: Garfield Robinson)