Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 2nd 2016 Contents Damian Jackson, 36, of By Pass
Road, Arima, is back to playing
basketball these days.
What is a normal sport for
young men, was something
which in 2015 and prior years,
Jackson thought he might never
have done again.
Shooting hoops and even basic
tasks in his life became difficult
for Jackson who was born with
an abnormality---a severely
leaking valve---resulting in
shortness of breath.
Worse, it also resulted in
dilation, enlargement or
stretching of the heart chambers
putting him at risk of heart
"When I was small, I could run
and move around but as I got
older, I couldn't lift things or walk
upstairs...I'd have pain and
heartburn like feelings," he says.
"The doctors told me the right
side of my heart was stretching.
That was a big thing to take in---
"They didn't sugar-coat the
situation. They told me I would
die if something wasn't done.
"Boy, that's not the kind of
thing you want to hear in your
30s at all!"
Last June, the OHS team
undertook valve reconstruction
surgery to preserve Jackson's
damaged mitral valve, a type of
surgery which is performed and
available in specialised heart
surgery centres around the world.
Jackson recalls coming out of
surgery with needles everywhere,
tubes in his stomach---and four
to his heart
"But it was
over and I was
good now," he
A heart being stretched...
A heart in your hands...
How does it feel to hold a
person's heart in your hands?
Though doctors don't like to talk
about their work, that is "The"
question for any heart surgeon.
"The feeling is mainly a reminder
of great responsibility...a defining
moment which brings to bear all
the years of experience, skill and
faith to achieve success for the
patients in the face of many unique
variables," says Dr Randolph
Rawlins, the MOH-OHS team's
A team including pre- and post-
operation leader Dr Oti Esmije and
specialist cardio-thoracic surgeon
Rawlins, lead surgeon for the first
totally local open-heart surgery
performed in T&T, has handled the
surgeries over the last six-and-a-
The programme involves all types
of heart surgeries including
complex ones and where more than
one procedure (or a combination
are performed) simultaneously. The
team, self-effacing and low profile,
rarely speak of their work.
Rawlins (MB BS, FRCS( Ed),
FRCS CTH) is a consultant cardiac
and thoracic surgeon of over 20
He earned specialisations in
London through Guy's & St
Thomas' and Kings College
University Hospitals and the
Royal College of Surgeons in
Edinburgh, UK. He's been very
involved at regional, national and
international conferences, research
and publications and is a member
of the Society of Heart and Lung
Specialists (Great Britain & Ireland)
and is an associate UWI lecturer.
His expertise includes coronary
artery bypass Surgery, structural
heart diseases including heart valve
reconstruction (repair surgery) and
thoracic surgical oncology.
Rawlins says: "Great satisfaction
comes from simply serving people
to ensure they have the best
quality of life. Heart and vascular
diseases in T&T and worldwide is
the commonest cause of mortality
based on WHO data. This number
is expected to increase.
"This job is an opportunity to give
back to citizens and contribute in
an area where there's a great need
and a limited number of specialist
heart surgeons. The best part is the
satisfaction of seeing individuals
living life well and moving from
poor quality of life to enjoying
"It's about individuals once more
doing things they previously were
unable to---walk up stairs without
chest pains, walk to the shop for a
newspaper without being
breathless and tired. Or not living in
fear they could collapse suddenly
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Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Wednesday, March 2, 2016
HOLDING A HEART
From Page A25
Thanks to the surgery to repair
a mitral valve, Damian Jackson
can now enjoy one of his
basketball. PHOTO COURTESY
What is a normal sport for most 30-something-year-
old young men, was something which in 2015 and
prior years, Jackson thought he might have never
done again. Shooting hoops and even basic tasks in
his life became difficult for Jackson who was born
with an abnormality---a severely
leaking valve---resulting in shortness of
breath. Worse, it also resulted in
dilation, enlargement or stretching of the
heart chambers putting him at risk of
and his son, with
whom he can now
play and be active.
Damian Pacheco was the one
who said a prayer when he turned
40 last year.
"I thanked God for my life and
getting me the help I needed."
Pacheco, a La Brea payroll clerk
had, for his preceding 39 years seen
his energy and ability to function
slipping away due to childhood
rheumatic fever which resulted in
severe narrowing of his aortic and
mitral heart valves. Treatment for
this wasn't easily accessible when
he was younger.
More than anything, it pained him
to be unable to play sports with his
Pacheco's family arranged for him
to have open heart surgery in the
US in November 2001 at age 26
where aortic valve replacement
was performed. But his mitral valve
later deteriorated and Pacheco
required further, more complex
surgery. However his family could
not send him abroad again.
After years of worsening
symptoms, doctors said he was
eventually unable to work because
of the symptoms including severe
shortness of breath on minimal
"It was hard---I could only walk
slowly and I couldn't play with my
young son, as a father you want to
know you could do things with your
The OHS team undertook
complex surgery to replace his
severely-narrowed valve in 2015.
Pacheco said: "One thing which
struck me in that whole experience
was the friendliness and
professionalism of all the staff. "
"You hear so many things about
hospitals. But not this experience.
It's like they were 'all heart' in truth,
I even have some of them on
WhatsApp, we've remained
friends...I'm eternally grateful, my
life is mine now."
A father gets
his life back...
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