May 23, 2017
WPP performs 50th spinal fusion at MCMH

Consultations in the May, 2017 Scoliosis Clinic of the World Pediatric Project took place on Sunday, May 14, where 19 children were seen. This relatively small number was no coincidence at all, as this clinic, according to Jacqueline Browne-King, Eastern Caribbean representative of the WPP, was organized to take care of the overflow of cases coming out of the annual Scoliosis Clinic in November, 2016.

The surgical team, new to St Vincent and the Grenadines, but not new to such missions, had as its leader Kate Corbett, who skillfully oversaw their occupation of clinic space and the subsequent arrangements for a successful mission. The team included: pediatric orthopedic surgeon Dr Steven Hwang; orthopedic surgery fellow Dr Andrew Vivas; adult orthopedic surgeon Vincentian Dr Charles Woods; adult orthopedic specialist from Trinidad and Tobago Dr Kirani White; pediatric anesthesiologist Dr Michael Schwartz; OR nurse Jan Steinieck; neuro-monitoring specialist Heather Greenberg and physician’s assistant Heather Keeney.

Of the19 children seen, eight were identified for surgical procedures. On Monday, May 15, the first day of surgery, 15-year-old Hadassah Alexander of St Lucia was identified as Patient No.1. She received spinal fusion intervention, becoming the 50th patient completing such a procedure since the WPP commenced scoliosis surgeries in St Vincent and the Grenadines in 2009. describes scoliosis as a condition which causes the spine to curve towards the side. Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure that attaches rods, hooks, wires or screws to the curved part of the backbone, in order to straighten the spine.

Hadassah’s journey towards spinal fusion, though taken with much patience and a wealth of hope, was not an easy one. According to her mother, Philomene Alexander, it was at the age of 12 that a friend noticed that as her daughter stood up, there seemed to be a visible unevenness with both shoulders. As a matter of fact, when she subsequently took Hadassah to the doctor, it was for an abnormally curved finger, which had nothing to do with the curvature off her spine. It was during that visit in 2015, though, that the doctor explained scoliosis to the Alexanders and referred Hadassah to the WPP hub in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Unfortunately, the curve of Hadassah’s spine was becoming more pronounced. According to the mother, “In school, everyone was always so protective of her and there was a special group of friends who looked out for her.”

By 2015, when the family came to the scoliosis mission, the caring mother was hoping against all hope that Hadassah would be operated on. The opposite happened – the clinic was crowded with many more advanced cases. Alexander applied her sensitivity. She recalled, “When I looked around and saw the number of children with their backs so much worse than Hadassah’s, I knew it wasn’t going to happen!”

As time wore on, Hadassah’s spinal curve became more accentuated. Mom was becoming worried, so when the 2016 visit didn’t end in surgery, she was disappointed, but she expressed the faith to wait. With this surgical mission created to deal with overflows from November 2016, an anxious and desperate Philomene Alexander travelled to St Vincent and the Grenadines, as Hadassah’s spinal curve was now what she called “alarmingly advanced compared to former visits”. Restlessness was rife during consultation day, as Hadassah was reviewed, images were viewed, all other procedures undertaken. Hadassah had become critical for intervention and the World Pediatric Project had seized another opportunity to “heal a child, save the world” – the 50th child to receive the procedure. Like the other children, surgery was successful and she was recovering well.

By the end of the mission, on Friday, May 19, the total number of scoliosis surgeries performed by the WPP team had risen to 57.