Leading Guyanese paediatric surgeon revolutionising healthcare
Dr Marisa Seepersaud has been revolutionising surgical care for children and babies in Guyana for over a decade now. Up until a year ago, she was the only paediatric surgeon in Guyana – now, she is one of two and she is in high demand.
She is the Coordinator of the Paediatric Surgical Unit at the Georgetown Public Hospital and is resolute in her quest to ensure that Guyanese children are provided the level of quality surgical care they deserve. Dr Seepersaud performs the simplest to the most complex procedures on children. She takes pride in knowing she would have made a difference in a child’s life early on, such as fixing birth defects.
“When a child is born and they don’t have an anus and we have to manage them and recreate it; sometimes they are born and they don’t have the muscles that separate the abdomen and the chest,” Dr Seepersaud explained during an interview with the News Room.
Dealing with sick children can be scary sometimes but she has learned how to navigate the emotions and fears of the child as well as parents who are in distress.
Dr Seepersaud has been caring for children with limited resources but she has been working to improve surgical care for children.
“Any child from any group in the country may end up needing surgery. Children escape from their parents – you know they fall, they run out onto the road, things just happen. So, any child may actually need to have surgery and I would love to have everything I need to look after Guyanese children at the level they would have if they were born in North America, or Jamaica or if they were born in Europe.”
“I think Guyanese children deserve it and, not to be cliché, but they are our future and we don’t know maybe we are saving the next president or the next cardiologist, somebody who can make an even bigger impact than anyone of us,” Dr Seepersaud said.
Initially, she wanted to be an astronaut “but there is no scope for that here so I decided I would do medicine.”
After she graduated from President’s College and the University of Guyana School of Medicine, she then went on to study at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica where she did her specialised paediatric surgical programme.
“At the time when I left, the programme was about 35 years old and had never graduated a female surgeon, but I was determined that I was going to become a surgeon and a paediatric surgeon, so I went,” Dr Seepersaud explained.
When she finally graduated, before she could have returned to Guyana she wanted to make sure that she knew how paediatric surgery was done elsewhere.
“So I spent six months at SickKids in Toronto and another six months at the Royal Manchester Hospital for Children in the UK and then I (went) back to Jamaica. I worked at the Children’s Hospital, at the university, and then I decided okay, I knew enough of what to expect and it was time to come home.”
Dr Seepersaud knew it would be a challenge coming back since there were no paediatric surgeons in Guyana and trying to establish the fairly new service here would be difficult. She had to raise awareness on the service and now years later, she is aiming to develop other specialised paediatric services such as cardiology and urology.
She has introduced the ‘day care’ surgery – meaning that the patients are admitted and discharged within 24hrs of surgery. This minimises the amount of time children spend in hospitals.
“We had to put a lot of things in place – policies, protocols, training for our nurses so we could be able to do that and I can say about 90 per cent of the cases that we do, that is how we do it,” Dr Seepersaud explained.
Operating with instruments that are larger than babies has also proved challenging. But Dr Seepersaud has made strides in procuring a few equipment and she hopes to one day be able to operate in a room fully-equipped for children. With more resources, she posited that more training of local doctors here can also be possible.
She is also hoping to introduce laparoscopic surgeries in children in Guyana. This will directly result in fewer hospitalisations, parents won’t have to stay away long from work and children won’t have to miss school for long periods.
“There are a lot of benefits to be realised.”
Many parents here cannot afford to send their children overseas and Dr Seepersaud has become resourceful in finding the expertise and bringing them to Guyana.
In 2019, she was awarded the Canadian Association of Paediatric Surgeons Global Scholar Award. After she spoke at the conference, a number of doctors were interested in coming here to develop training programmes but, not long after, the COVID pandemic hit and these plans did not materialise.
But last year, the first paediatric anesthetist joined the local team.
Dr Seepersaud is still looking to collaborate with partners to develop the residency programme with lecturers and attachment programmes that are not available in Guyana.