OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE
In the operating room following surgery. From left to right: Dr. José Antonio Pedreira, an otolaryngologist from Granma, Professor Dexter Shim, founder of the Trinidad and Tobago Society of Otolaryngology and resident ENT physicians. Photo: Rodolfo Arozarena Fundora

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO.— In the midst of the Caribbean, stand the “Twin Towers,” as the Eric Williams Financial Complex, located on Independence Square, Port of Spain, is known to locals.

There is no other building as tall as this in Trinidad and Tobago, nor the rest of the English-speaking Caribbean, consisting of a pair of 22-story skyscrapers at a height of 302 feet (92m). Its construction, managed by architecture firm Anthony C. Lewis Partnership, started in 1979 and was completed in 1986. The first tower of the complex houses the country’s Central Bank, while the second is home to the Ministry of Finance.

The complex, also known as Eric Williams Plaza, was named after Eric Eustace Williams, first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, and also a noted historian and founder of the People's National Movement (1955).

However, a few days on this island were enough to discover that “Sweet T&T”, as Trinidadians refer to their country, is a site of coincidences. Because there, in the northern central region of the island of Trinidad, which “floats” adjacent to the Orinoco Delta, stands another building with the same name, whose significance, at least in terms of life and death, is much more striking.

They say the omen is usually “bad” when one arrives at the emergency room of a hospital. Perhaps it seemed so for the young man – about whom Dr. Rodolfo Arozarena Fundora now talks – who probably did not realize that Cuban hands, along with others from this land, were working to reverse his bleak prognosis. This is just one of the many stories that the Cuban medical brigade, collaborating in the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, has to tell.

“He arrived at the hospital as an emergency, with a puncture wound in the neck following a work accident, caused by a portable circular saw blade that broke off while working. We were called to the emergency room where we confirmed a penetrating wound of the larynx and upper trachea with laceration of the thyroid gland and active bleeding, plus air bubbling from the entry point in the neck,” recalls otolaryngologist Dr. Arozarena Fundora.

The specialist noted that an emergency tracheotomy was immediately performed under local anesthesia in the minor surgery room, within the emergency department, before the patient was rushed to the operating room.

“There, the teamwork of the otolaryngology and thoracic surgery services of the hospital, this time led by Dr. Sreekhan, enabled us to carry out an immediate laryngotracheal reconstruction on the young man, with control of local bleeding and repair of the lacerated thyroid gland. Luckily, there was no direct injury to the recurrent laryngeal nerve or the vascular and nerve structures of the neck. His progress was satisfactory, allowing for removal of the tracheotomy in 12 days and complete healing within a month of the surgery.”

This was a complex surgical procedure. Our interviewee is quick to thank professors such as Andrés Sánchez Díaz, José Antonio Peraza, Nélido González, José Ramón Martínez, Edelberto Fuentes, and Professor Corona, among the many others who assisted him in his training as a surgeon, in order that he may perform an operation such as this, which saved the life of this patient in Trinidad and Tobago.

Eric Williams Hospital

Located in the northern central region of the country, the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex serves as the University Hospital of Trinidad and Tobago, associated with the University of the West Indies, with a five-year program of undergraduate study, and a postgraduate residency program in clinical, surgical, gynecological and pediatric specialties, Dr. Arozarena Fundora explains.

The center also serves as a tertiary level surgical and clinical teaching hospital, with wide services including Nephrology, Dialysis and Renal Transplantation, Open and Minimal Access Cardiovascular Surgery, traditional and keyhole Abdominal and Thoracic Surgery, Neurosurgical Services with open and keyhole techniques; and has the country's largest pediatric and neonatal complex with intensive care for children and newborns. The complex is also home to the School of Dentistry of Trinidad and Tobago, also attached to the University of the West Indies.

As such, our interviewee notes, the hospital serves as a reference center for the English-speaking Caribbean in many specialties; and a number of its services are unique to the country’s public health system.

“All these details demonstrate the high standards and professionalism which must be articulated in English and this has not been an impediment to the work of our health professionals. It is precisely within this scenario that the efforts of the Cuban medical brigade at the Eric Williams develop, viewed as magnificent by health professionals and the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” Dr. Arozarena Fundora adds.

Twenty-three Cuban health professionals (thirteen women and ten men) are working in this hospital, including five doctors (allergy, maxillofacial, cardiology, clinical and intensive care and otolaryngology), an entomologist, three pharmaceutical sciences graduates and fourteen nurses (nine women and five men).

This brigade, like the rest of the Cuban health collaborators in this part of the Caribbean, confronts daily the most serious health problem in the country: chronic noncommunicable diseases.

“They have a high incidence of arterial hypertension, diabetes and obesity, conditions that are the basis of cardiovascular diseases. This is seen in young people, and obesity, for example, ranges from childhood to later stages of life. This generates endocrine-metabolic disorders in children, orthopedic disorders, skin, cardiovascular and otolaryngological problems.

“Our expertise has a major impact in the Eric Williams, as it is the university hospital where high technology public care and training of nurses, doctors and specialists occurs. It is the country’s largest pediatric center. There is a high incidence of obstructive sleep apnea, a disease that is associated with obesity, as well as gastroesophageal reflux disease, based on the dietary elements that the majority consume, and gastrointestinal diseases,” Dr. Arozarena Fundora explains.

Due to its complexity, given the number of services it provides, working at this hospital could appear a huge challenge. But neither this or the language difference have been insurmountable obstacles to this score of everyday heroes - or even “greatly missing home and the family, as from a distance there is plenty of nostalgia and awareness of not being with them.”

We leave convinced that our doctors are unique, even as one of them apologizes, unnecessarily, for wanting to send greetings to his daughters, wife, family, patients and friends; to the “Salvador Allende Hospital workers and the collective of the Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital, especially in the Otolaryngology service and the team on the 20th floor of the center, who with their efforts in Cuba support our collaboration work.”

The pictures do not lie. In them smiles the young man who had emergency surgery six months ago, and has seen a total recovery following an accident that could have put an end to his dreams. Back then he was unaware that a little piece of Cuba was working to safeguard the Eric Williams Complex.