To mark a personal milestone last Saturday, St. Lucia Toronto Aid Action Group (STAAG) founder Jeannie Beausoliel avoided the traditional gift-giving.
Instead of accepting presents for her 60th birthday, Beausoliel requested that guests at her birthday party make donations to the Sick Kids Foundation Caribbean SickKids Paediatric Cancer & Blood Disorders Project (CSPCBDP) set up to help build health care capacity in Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago and the Bahamas by training health care professionals, providing consultation and diagnostic expertise and developing and expanding access to treatment and supportive care.
The six hubs were selected based on some world-leading experts in blood disorders, paediatric cancer and infectious diseases who have roots in those countries.
Approximately $11,000 was raised at the party.
“I have every material thing I need,” said Beausoleil who resided in the United States for 18 years before relocating to the Greater Toronto Area in 1995. “I have lost family members and close friends to cancer and there is a surge in deaths as a result of this disease. With very little resources in St. Lucia, there is a great need for assistance and this is my way of giving back to the country of my birth.”
As part of the CSPCBDP five-year plan, TeleMedicine, physician envoys and the SickKids International Learner program will provide customized and hands-on training to local practitioners, establish and maintain a patient registry to provide high-quality data and key outcomes and increase the knowledge of primary care practitioners and pharmacists in the Caribbean to improve cancer care access.
Trainees will also travel from the Caribbean to SickKids regularly for hands-on training and experience at the hospital’s Garron Family Cancer Centre. The hospital has so far trained seven practitioners from Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados.
SickKids Foundation has raised $6.8 million in just over a year to support the project.
“We would like to thank Mrs. Beausoleil and her wonderful network of family, friends and supporters who helped raised funds in support of the project,” said the foundation’s president and chief executive officer, Ted Garrard. “The money raised will help SickKids build health care capacity in St. Lucia, specifically training local physicians and nurses who are treating children with paediatric cancer and blood disorders.”
In the keynote address, Vincentian-born Hospital for Sick Children (HSC) staff haematologist Dr. Melanie Kirby-Allen said the initiative’s success requires a collaborative approach from community members like Jeannie Beausoleil and regional medical practitioners.
“The success and sustainability of this initiative is grounded by the vested commitment inherent in the partnerships and collaborations involved,” she said. “In the Caribbean, the health ministers, chief medical officers and physicians have all been very supportive of this ambitious endeavour. The dedication of partners and regional medical leads like Dr. Jackie Bird-Compton (St. Lucian paediatrician) and Dr. Stephen King (former chief medical officer in St. Lucia) who were my classmates at the University of the West Indies must be acknowledged. Despite being extremely busy, they both find the time to give priority to this initiative so that we can make things a little better for Caribbean children.”
An Associate Professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto, Dr. Kirby-Allen said the CSPCBDP is in the process of establishing an oncology database to track outcomes and regional trends.
“You have to know what you have within the region to be able to know what we should be doing,” she added. “One we start to manage patients, we will follow their outcomes.”
St. Lucia’s governor general, Dame Pearlette Louisy, was the event’s patron.
The island’s head of state since September 1997 acknowledged Beausoleil’s generosity and thanked her organization for supporting the fight against cancer.
“This event is an independence anniversary gift like no other,” said Louisy who was awarded a Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan in 1972 to pursue her Master’s in Linguistics at Laval University in Quebec. “Our children are our future. They are one of our greatest assets. So it’s not difficult to understand why their health and well-being have to be one of our greatest priorities…Your decision therefore to advocate for and support the fight against cancer in general and paediatric cancer in particular has made you a very significant partner in securing the well-being of our people and in contributing to the sustainable development of our country, for a nation’s health is its wealth.”
St. Lucia celebrated its 35th independence anniversary on February 22.
Cancer is the leading cause of disease-related child deaths in St. Lucia. Three years ago, five of 12 children diagnosed with the disease died.
Paediatricians and oncologists at University Hospital in neighbouring Martinique provide St. Lucian children with upgraded diagnosis and early treatment. In some cases, the patients are transferred to France for further treatment with the aid of French Social Security Assistance.
Louisy said the cost of overseas cancer treatment is prohibitive.
“Four years ago, the cost of a brain tumour surgery in the United States hovered between US$100,000 and $150,000 for a patient,” she said. “For patients with blood cancers that required extended chemotherapy, radiation and other interventions, the cost was about US$200,000…Last November an estimate of US$20,000 was given for a child within the SickKids project for a one-day visit to SickKids for clinical assessment and surgical biopsy for bone cancer x-rays, other imaging and histology assessments. That $20,000 does not include chemotherapy and radiation.
“You can well imagine the number of weekend barbeques and country & western dances that families have to put on along with appeals for sponsorship to come up with that kind of money.
“It’s indeed a daunting prospect and sadly therefore paediatric cancers and serious blood disorders in St. Lucia and the Caribbean are often fatal because of a shortage of resources, both financial and professional, to diagnose and treat children.
“This is why we are so excited about this partnership with SickKids and I must commend STAAG for truly taking up this challenge on our behalf. You are already assisting St. Lucia and the rest of the Caribbean in achieving one of its goals which is the creation of advocacy and fundraising.”
St. Lucian nurses in the Greater Toronto Area were celebrated for their outstanding contributions to Canada’s health care system.
Dr. Upton Allen, the division head of infectious diseases at the HSC, presented roses to Marian Samuel, Paul Mariana Joseph, Veronica Volney, Andrea Harry, Mary Amos, Paula Justin, Janice Jeremy and Tony Hinkson.
Three-time local calypso monarch, Dennis James, who will debut in the St. Lucia Calypso competition this year, serenaded the health care practitioners.
The guests included St. Lucian-born English actor Joseph Marcell who is best known for his role as Geoffrey – The Butler – in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, St. Lucia’s tourism heritage and creative industries minister Lorne Theophilus and Justice Greg Regis.