Chest tumors, gunshot & stab wounds part of the work of small Thoracic Surgery Dept.
By Vishani Ragobeer
Prior to 2015, medical care for chest diseases and trauma was limited and in many cases, non-existent. Since that year, however, a small but competent team has been able to offer this care and bring relief to hundreds of patients.
Charlene John, 38, is one of those patients. Earlier this year, in May, she felt a significant discomfort in her chest and she had difficulties breathing. With this persistent pain, she could not lay flat on her bed and sleep. Instead, she had to prop herself up on three pillows just so that she could manage to get some rest.
“It was a heaviness and then at one time, I was just numb from this half,” she added, pointing to the right side of her body.
At first, she brushed it off as mere ‘wind’ pains but when it persisted, she decided to visit a doctor. There, she did an x-ray. Strangely, that x-ray showed an unusual shadow in her chest, and with her doctor unsure of what that was, she was referred to a specialist.
That specialist was Consultant General and Thoracic Surgeon, Dr. Cheetanand Mahadeo. Alongside his team in the thoracic surgery department, the surgeon tried to investigate what was affecting the woman. And eventually, they found out.
“She had a tumor in her chest and it was causing a bit of pain and discomfort to the point where she couldn’t sleep anymore,” Dr. Mahadeo told the News Room during an interview on Wednesday.
This tumor, a chest wall tumor, was growing near the nerves between her ribs. Dr. Mahadeo explained that these joined onto the nerves in the spine and as such, every time she breathed, the tumor would rub against the nerves and cause her excruciating pain.
Fortunately, the thoracic surgeon was able to perform a thoracotomy (they cut open her chest) and removed the tumor. In less than one week, John was back home, recovering well.
The chest tumor and the pain it inflicted, coupled with the fast-recovery time, sounds strange, but Dr. Mahadeo said that this type of pathology and surgery is not uncommon- at least, not internationally.
“Tumors are there all the time (but) what is unique for Guyana is that for the first time, since 2015 to now, it is the first time these things are being addressed,” Dr. Mahadeo explained.
2015 was the year Dr. Mahadeo returned home after pursuing a thoracic fellowship abroad and alongside Dr. Zoilo Leon, another thoracic surgeon who is a Cuban national set out to provide thoracic services in the local health system.
“I came home with that vision that we had to start a thoracic surgery service in the country because we never had this offered and the vision extended to complete respiratory care, which is the other non-surgical diseases and to create one comprehensive national network so that chest diseases can be treated,” Dr. Mahadeo said.
What this means is that people like John can actually benefit from services they otherwise could not have. In fact, Dr. Mahadeo said, if they were diagnosed and they could not go abroad for treatment, they would just have to “deal with it”.
Beyond treating diseases, Registrar of Thoracic Surgery, Dr. Kapil Dev Tewari highlighted that the team also treats gunshot and stab wounds and other types of trauma to the airway and neck.
These may not all be part of the work of thoracic surgery, but he says that it is part of their duty as doctors to serve people. Importantly, Dr. Tewari highlighted that children are able to benefit from these services too.
Though these are all noteworthy and welcomed, the thoracic surgery department has not been without its own growing pains.
In fact, Dr. Leon told the News Room that it has been an uphill task trying to build confidence in the work of the team since many of the surgeries are new to Guyana. He explained that the doctors have the training and have the skills, but the mere fact that a particular surgery has never been done locally might sometimes be off-putting for patients.
Dr. Mahadeo agreed with this and explained that even the other specialties that would support the work of the thoracic department had to adapt and grow, too.
“It took some adjustment from us to allow us to do these complicated things but once the patients walk out of the hospital you understand that it is manageable and we can do it,” Dr. Mahadeo reasoned.
And, even with limited human and financial resources, Dr. Mahadeo remains optimistic that the team would be able to continue its good work and help people like John and many more.