DOCTORS from Bridge of Life, a medical non-governmental organisation based in Colorado, USA, will be working round-the-clock in Tobago for a week assisting dialysis patients. The doctors, here owing to a partnership with the Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA), will be doing Arteriovenous (AV) fistula surgeries at Scarborough General Hospital.
The team, which consists of three surgeons, two nurse teachers and an organisation representative, began screening patients on Monday morning, with plans of beginning treatment later in the day.
The concept of Bridge of Life was inspired by DaVita Inc, a leading kidney care provider in the United States, which launched DaVita Medical Missions to improve kidney care in under served areas of the world.
Speaking with Newsday Tobago during a launch on Monday at the Scarborough General Hospital in Signal Hill, TRHA’s Medical Chief of Staff Dr Rufaro Celestine expressed gratitude for the collaboration.
She said, “Both organisations have come together to partner to improve the lives of renal patients, kidney patients on the island…all who have to have haemodialysis, it’s a very lifesaving treatment that’s offered.
“It was started a few months ago… Bridge of Life has helped thousands of people around the world and we’re hoping that this joint programme can succeed and provide good healthcare for kidney patients in years to come.”
Bridge of Life's Senior Director for Programmes Sara Hendren said its mission is to build sustainable healthcare programmes that focuses on prevention and treatment of chronic diseases; hypertension, diabetes and chronic kidney diseases.
She said, “We are in Tobago to elevate the treatment standard and care for patients that are on haemodialysis, through the creation of AV Fistula, which is an access point in order to receive treatment. Our hope is that we can turn the catheter rates, which are quite high here in Tobago, to decrease and increase the AV fistula rates. Using AV fistula as an access point increases the patient’s health, increases their well-being and in the long-term there is a decrease in the overall health budget of the patient.
“Today, it is my understanding that there is not anyone in Tobago that is facilitating AV fistula surgeries – no one is trained to do that. Not only are we here to facilitate and do the surgeries, but our long term goal and objective is to train the general surgeons here in Tobago to do that independently, so that can be a standard for dialysis patients, to get a AV fistula as their first line of access rather than a catheter.”
AV fistula surgeries, according to Hendren, is a vascular surgery, "meaning that you use veins and arteries to create an organic or a natural point of access for a patient. Fistula is created in the arm, tying a vein and an artery together in order to access the blood for haemodialysis.”
Bridge of Life has worked in several countries around the world, however this is their first time in Tobago.
Head of Bridge of Life's surgical team Dr William Jennings said, “We generally come for these missions for a week, sometimes a bit longer. What we planned here is just a week to do somewhere between 40 and 50 operations. We work all week.”
Trinidadian Allan Saroop, administrator with DaVita Inc and also a volunteer on the Bridge of Life mission, noted that patient education is very important as well.
"Our focus is to educate as much people as we possibly can, not just the nurses and the technicians but also the patients," he said, "Dialysis is rough, dialysis is really, really a tough thing to swallow and when patients rush in to the hospital, they have no idea in what is happening, it is up to us to go in there and ensure that they feel a little bit comfortable."
Manager of TRHA's Medical Imaging Department Joan Solomon was full of praise for the initiative and said the experience is very valuable for the local staff. She said she too was happy for the opportunity.