A toddler laughs loudly in the background and talks to his brother in the secret language of young children. Leslie Sookoo speaks gratefully about the programme that helped her sons become the healthy children they are today.
Johan and Tariq were born with anal atresia, a defect of the intestinal tract. At birth they were given a colostomy by Dr. Barrie Landreth-Smith, one of the paediatric surgeons at the Mount Hope Women’s Hospital, who advised Mrs. Sookoo that they were not adequately equipped to treat her children’s condition and referred her to the Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, Canada. After months of research and fund-raising, she took the babies abroad for two surgical operations (one on Mother’s Day and the other on the 4th of July).
“[Dr. Langer], the physician taking care of my boys told me about the [UWI Telehealth] programme. He said that it would save me money because I would be able to communicate with him via videoconferencing and make fewer trips to Canada.”
The Telehealth programme was established by the collaborative effort of the UWI Faculty of Medical Sciences, the world-renowned SickKids Hospital, the Atlantic LNG Company of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), the Herbie Fund and the Ministry of Health (T&T). It was formally launched under the patronage of His Excellency Professor George Maxwell Richards on September 14, 2004 to the great satisfaction of Professor Zulaika Ali, Programme Director. Through innovative teleconferencing technology, “real time” consultations take place between local health care professionals and specialists at the SickKids Hospital. The linkage also strengthens local continuing medical education in paediatrics and its sub-specialties, as well as promotes and supports collaborative research between medical investigators in Trinidad and Tobago and Canada.
Mrs. Sookoo is a willing advocate of the programme saying, “Nisa Philip [Programme Manager] was very helpful in making all the arrangements. The appointment went well. It was just as if we were there with Dr. Langer. I think that [UWI Telehealth] is efficient and cost-effective a thousand times over. The boys are doing very well. They are as normal as can be, thank God.” Recently good news was also given to one of the first recipients of the UWI Teleheath service: Natalia Juman, a seven year old who loves cartoons and looks forward to going to school to study the sciences, was suffering from a serious medical condition at birth that had proved fatal for three of her aunts. In April 2005, doctors in Trinidad were able to consult and discuss her case with their colleagues in Canada. Almost exactly one year later after several video-conferences, Natalia has returned home after a highly successful medical procedure in Canada. Through the surgery and consultations, the family was saved the medical expense of TT $270,000 through this programme.
“Well actually this whole procedure is a lifeline to me…it’s very cost effective,” explained her mother. Similarly, for Natalia’s grandfather, Andrew Lara, the service was seen as extremely beneficial.
“It was wonderful. I never thought we had that technology here… [we’ve had] a lot f suffering…from the time she was a baby.”
For Professor Zulaika Ali, Director of the Programme, its progress has been very gratifying, “It was very satisfying to actually see the whole thing come together after working on this since 2001.”
The UWI Telehealth programme has already benefited numerous children like Johan, Natalia and Tariq, and it is expected to help many more.
The Children’s Hospital, EWMSC is a health care, teaching and research institution
dedicated to children in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
and a referral centre for children in the Caribbean