Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 16th 2013 Contents A8
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt June 16, 2013
RHONDA KRYSTAL RAMBALLY
It s not often you ask a woman
to talk about herself and she starts
with her age.
"I m 40 years old," says Dr Jacque-
Her laugh was infectious.
"It doesn t matter. It is what it is,"
It was Tuesday afternoon at her
office in Regents Tower, Westmoor-
She s a general practitioner, chair-
man and medical director of Vitas
House Hospice, and she is set to fully
assume leadership at the Cancer
Society later this year. She replaces
Dr George Laquis, who s been at the
helm for over 40 years.
But she thinks her most important
role is being a mother to her son and
The hospice cares for terminally-
ill cancer patients and is the society s
"baby." It was established about five
Despite her position, she visits
each day because she enjoys chatting
with her patients.
The graduate of the University of
the West Indies said she believes that
patients should have a proper death.
She is passionate about palliative
care and oncology. She said palliative
care should always be integrated into
any medical system.
'I love what I do'
At age 15 she started her bachelor s
degree at North Carolina State Uni-
versity and did courses in pre-med
Asked how that was possible, she
mouthed the words, "I don t know."
She left Holy Name Convent at
the end of Form Four to continue
studies in Virginia.
As a child growing up in Good-
wood Park she wanted to become a
vet, then thought of law, but it was
at university that she developed an
interest in medicine.
the hospitals and I think that s when
I really started to understand and like
and become passionate about med-
icine," she said.
It s now 25 years later and she jug-
gles many hats without complaints.
She said, "I m exactly where I want
"I wake up every day loving that
doctor I can be."
So how exactly does she handle it
all?Her days are impossible but
rewarding and she gave credit to her
"fantastic" husband, children whom
she said have made parenting easy,
family members who are supportive
and teams at Cancer Society and the
"I don t know how it works.
"I think I have an amazing family,
my husband is fantastic and supports
me absolutely, entirely and is always
"And I have a great family support
network and I feel that is a huge
allowance for how I am allowed to
do what I do. In addition to which,
at Cancer Society and Vitas House
we have a fantastic team who works
Vitas House a dream come true
After graduating from medical
school she started a job at the emer-
gency room at the Port-of-Spain
General Hospital and met Dr Gerard
Farfan and the wife of the late John
"They used to go on a weekend
to visit their terminally-ill patients
and I soon joined them.
"It was something that was
"When Dr Laquis brought to the
front that as part of Cancer Society s
armamentarium he wanted to have
a hospice, it was just really like a
dream come true for Pat and myself."
The hospice is free and accom-
modates 12 patients on the grounds
of the National Radiotherapy Centre,
"It is something I am very proud
of," she said.
She boasted that the facility was
well-run and well-organised by a
To date, the hospice has admitted
and cared for close to 370 patients.
There is a team of nurses, a man-
ager and a resident doctor.
She said the demographics of the
patients were from very young to the
"We have had a patient as young
"When we looked back at our
admissions to Vistas House over its
inception period you will find that
the average age, irrespective of cancer
Young doctors interested
in palliative care
While palliative care should always
be integrated into any medical sys-
tem, Pereira-Sabga said what was
ideal was home hospice care.
"Pat and I have been doing that.
Pat a lot longer than me, and I think
that once there are more resources
and people...I think there are many
young doctors that are coming up
who are interested in palliative care
and will in fact follow through on
that," she said.
Home hospice care is ideal, but
she said an actual hospice was impor-
tant because sometimes the care
given there may be better than what
a patient might get in a home hospice
She said, "It requires a lot more
resources, time and nursing, whereas
under one roof you can accomplish
the same thing for more than one
Pereira-Sabga also sits on the board
of the Palliative Care Society of T&T
which is set to open a hospice in
Caura. Another is expected to open
"So we are getting there," she said.
Cancer Society has huge
responsibility to society
Leading the Cancer Society is a
mammoth responsibility, and Pereira-
Sabga said she s unsure whether she
can fill Laquis shoes.
"I don t think anybody can fill Dr
Laquis shoes and that s the honest
truth. I tell him that all the time. He
knows that and he definitely is some-
body I admire a lot.
"I think the way he has pioneered
Cancer Society, his thought processes
and his leadership...it s just remark-
She said she still sees Laquis as
her chairman and she s not sure she s
ready "to hold on to those reins."
She is trying but said it was a
The Cancer Society is an important
organisation and is pivotal in the
country. Over the years, she said the
society led a pioneering role in trying
to educate people through its mobile
clinics, advertisements and outreach
The Cancer Society does pap
smears, breast exams, mammography
Pereira-Sabga thinks the biggest
challenge at the Cancer Society is
reaching everyone and getting them
to understand clearly what the guide-
lines are for screening and to encour-
age them to be screened and get edu-
She said, "I think that as we see
all of the incidences of cancer and
certainly trying to reach the entire
population into the far-reaching areas
of Trinidad, I think that our respon-
sibility to society is huge."
Obstacles along the way
"We screen patients and our
mantra is through education we hope
that there is an element of prevention
and early detection," she said.
The society is now at a transition
road where it s trying to update to
electronic records, to ensure 100 per
cent screening "accurately and appro-
priately" and that there is an element
of follow-through in patients who
have been screened.
Pereira-Sabga said they can then
tell patients their results and the fol-
low-up steps that are necessary.
She said, "It sounds quite simple,
but when you have it in real life it
is a mammoth task, considering
sometimes you have patients that
cannot be reached. They come in for
some sort of screening investiga-
tion...then you can t get them or they
don t come back in.
"You have lots of little obstacles
along the way and as an organisation
we have to overcome them because
as a team at Cancer Society we take
huge pride in what we do."
Big shoes to fill
...Dr Pereira-Sabga takes over from Laquis at Cancer Society
Chairman and medical director of Vitas
House Hospice Dr Jacqueline Pereira-Sabga.
PHOTO: BRIAN NG FATT
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