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“We have broken barriers in cardiovascular care with many groundbreaking firsts”, shares Dr Risshi Rampersad, Interventional Cardiologist, Caribbean Heart Care Medcorp (CHCm).

The institution was created in 1993 in response to the increasing challenges of cardiovascular disease within Trinidad and Tobago. Dr Kamal Rampersad engaged a group of heart care specialists, led by Professor Angelini from Bristol Heart Institute, to establish a programme of open heart surgery at the Eric Williams Medical Science Complex. Establishing this programme required personal sacrifice. At home we gave up our beds to accommodate these professionals. I saw the passion with which they embraced the challenge, rushing in and out of our home at unusual hours to attend to patients.

Groundbreaking Firsts

At Caribbean Heart Care Medcorp, initially we relied on the expertise of foreign professionals while establishing a rigorous training programme for our nationals. By 2005 we developed the first heart attack unit which still operates today. These groundbreaking firsts include the first aneurysm treatment in 2005, replacement of heart valves, the first replacement of heart valve without open heart surgery (TAVR) 2015, and the first 2000 open heart surgeries in the Caribbean. All these were done in an internationally recognised environment accredited for quality, assessment, and continuous improvement. We maintain these international standards to today and hope it can be contagious within the entire Healthcare fraternity.

Lifestyle is the Primary Risk Factor

Our lifestyles are primary contributors to risk factors. From early childhood our diets are loaded with food filled with saturated fat, sugar laded soft drinks and juice. We also lead sedentary lifestyles hooked on electronic devices and television while feasting on fried foods and processed meals. Diet and lack of exercise are major contributors to the early onset of diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. We need to teach our children and our children’s children, about healthy lifestyles, and cardiovascular prevention in order to live optimised lives and to create a future of a healthier Trinidad and Tobago. Caribbean Heart Care Medcorp participates at both spectrums, preventative via Health Education programmes and Restorative, timely interventional response and surgical repair.

Data provide evidence of our success

Two decades of Data compilation indicate that CHCm is one of the best cardiovascular surgery units in the world, right here in Trinidad and Tobago. Our mortalities are low compared to the international data and we have established ourselves as a local training institution for experts in cardiology. When patients ask “Doc, am I going to live through this surgery?” we confidently refer to the data. Additionally, we have performed over 15,000 angiograms and over 60,000 cardiac procedures and consultations. This represents well over 5% of our national population.

CHCm is honoured to be the only cardiovascular institution to have received the QHA Trent Hospital Accreditation in the Caribbean. We are driven to maintain the excellence required by this award. We strive to complement compassion and care for patients and their families with a team of highly experienced medical personnel.

Swift Response Saves Lives

By 2005, the first heart attack unit required a team of cardiac nurses, doctors and technicians to be on call 24 hours, seven days a week. Data indicate that many heart attacks occur early in the morning. I remember having to go out in the early mornings with this team who have become like family, working in battle to save a patient’s life. This allowed us to treat someone with a heart attack within minutes; highly favourable outcome within international standards and guidelines.

Responding swiftly after a heart attack, performing emergency angioplasty and stenting within a critical time frame, can save heart muscle and a life.

Our 24 hours, rapid response, primary angioplasty, heart attack team, has been one of our noted accomplishments over the last 15 years. Our high success rate and highly experienced team have saved hundreds of lives. While this is personally rewarding, it has been quite humbling to work alongside these unseen silent heroes.

Efficient Partnerships Make a Difference

CHCm has worked closely in a public/private partnership with the Ministry of Health, Trinidad and Tobago for more than 18 years. We both appreciate the severity of Coronary artery disease in our country. We have performed thousands of angiograms and angioplasties. We thank the MOH for this collaboration. Through challenging times over the years, financial and otherwise, we have remained disciplined and focused on our mission to save lives. CHCm has even assisted in training nurses to be stationed in Tobago and also made significant inputs in setting up Tobago’s first catheterization lab. As a result of this lab the waiting time for a coronary angiogram was reduced to one week.

Invaluable Lessons Learnt Over the Years

Quality care and passion for service complement each other. We constantly strive to improve and perform with excellence. Treating patients brings medicine, compassion, and empathy together. It is your bedside manners; the intonation of your speech. It is sometimes the unspoken concern; something that is not always practiced in the healthcare industry today. It is an honour to serve patients in this noble profession. We are thankful for those who express their appreciation. We were humbled to receive the 2013 award for service provider of the year from the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition Service Industry.

We all have personal stories. In 2006, I remembered one of my senior doctors in the SCMC ICU attending to a tall, muscular guy who had just received a life-saving angioplasty following a massive heart attack. The patient was anxious and scared in his bed. His blood pressure was high and his heart was racing. I remember that this doctor took his hand and began gently touching this guy on his head like a mother strokes a baby’s head. While looking at the monitors we noticed his pulse rate drop and blood pressure began to normalize. The doctor’s demonstration of compassion for this patient was almost miraculous. This was a lasting lesson for me. To this date, I ensure that all our doctors, students and nurses that work with CHCm patients exemplify this quality of Compassionate patient centred care.