Health

40 children with disabilities get treatment to improve quality of life

Sunday, November 19, 2017

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CHILDREN with disabilities were last week treated by doctors from the United States, a joint effort of Bustamante Hospital for Children (BHC), the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) and the Gillette Children's hospital of Minnesota, an initiative aimed at improving their quality of life.

Dr Michelle-Ann Richards-Dawson, senior medical officer at Bustamante Hospital for Children, explained that the Gillette Children's hospital team has been visiting the BHC since 2009 through collaboration with the Ministry of Health and UHWI, to improve the functionality of children with spasticity. The team visits the island three times per year.

Spasticity occurs when certain muscles in the body are continuously contracted.

“The work of the team from the Gillette Children's hospital has significantly impacted the lives of our patients and their families, and we look forward to the continued collaboration and development of rehabilitation services for children in Jamaica,” Dr Dawson is quoted as saying in a release from the South East Regional Health Authority. “On this 21st anniversary of their visit, we salute the team for their continued dedication and support of the BHC team and the patients.”

Consultant paediatric neurosurgeon Dr Joseph Petronio and Dr Mark Gormley, consultant paediatric physiatrist of the Gillette Children's hospital of Minnesota, were part of an eight-member team that has been in the island since November 12 treating patients at the BHC and UWHI, the release said.

Forty children between the ages two to 17 were treated overall, 12 of whom were treated at Bustamante Hospital for Children.

“We have developed a programme for treating children with disabilities in Jamaica and this procedure is done to help reduce spasticity or tightness of the legs,” Dr Petronio explained. “Majority of the children that are seen have cerebral palsy, which is caused by an injury to the brain within the first year of life. It is a non-progressive problem, although it causes increasing disability, because as the children grow the stiffness and tightness in their muscles worsen.”

Dr Petronio performs dorsal rhizotomy surgery, which is done on the lower lumbar spine to interrupt the abnormal circuitry in the brain that results in the tightness of the muscles.

“It doesn't reduce the sensation or the strength in the legs, but it does make their legs significantly looser,” he said. “So in some children with cerebral palsy, who have the underlying strength and motor control to be able to walk but are just limited by tightness, they have regained the ability to walk quite effectively and efficiently.”

Dr Gormely, performs a procedure called a phenol block, which is the administration of a muscular phenol injection under sedation, which also helps to reduce spasticity.

Both procedures are done in conjunction with the local health team at BHC and UHWI as part of efforts to strengthen the local team's capacity to perform these procedures independent of the overseas team, the release said.

“What we are trying to do in the programme is establish standards that the Jamaican health team can continue on their own. We try to add some technologies, but we also work within the context of what can be provided within Jamaica,” Dr Gormely said. “We provide wheelchairs, braces and other equipment and we provide education for the families in terms of how to take care of the children. We try to start at a very young age and provide that care from the very beginning, so that as they get older they will have fewer problems and will be able to do things for themselves and certainly reduce the care burden on the family.”

According to Dr Paula Dawson, consultant physiatrist at UHWI, who was instrumental in the establishment of the programme, there is evidence that the programme is making a difference in the lives of the patients.

“The wonderful thing is, initially when we started we saw a lot of deformity in the children. The ankles were out of place and the hips were out of place. Now we are intervening much earlier and we are educating the parents,” she said, noting that the Physiotherapy Association, the physiotherapy department in hospitals, and the Early Stimulation Programme also play an integral role in treating children with cerebral palsy and referring them early.

“We have kids walking that couldn't walk before; but not everyone will walk and you have to establish a practical goal for the patient,” she said.

In the meantime, Wayland Richards, president of the Organisation for Strategic Development in Jamaica, which is based in Minnesota, said the outreach programme is a signature project of the organization. He said the outreach started in 2009 following a fact-finding trip to the island.

Since then, more than 8,000 patients have benefited from the initiative.

“Part of the focus of this trip is to look at long-term sustainability development with the administration at the Bustamante Hospital for Children, and one of those areas is infrastructure needs and linking that to some fund-raising efforts,” he explained.

He also noted that his organisation hopes to foster the development of a relationship with the Montefiore Health System in New York, to offer cardiac surgery in Jamaica primarily for adolescent and adults.

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