For over 50 years, doctors, nurses and therapists of the Princess Elizabeth Centre have been helping hundreds of children of the Caribbean overcome and cope with their disabilities through surgery and specialised care.
But its efforts to construct a modern operating theatre, with surgical wards, recovery room and prep rooms under one roof has hit a snag.
Although work is far advanced on the two-storey structure housing in a building located at southern end of the Ariapita Avenue complex, the centre needs another million dollars to complete the construction and anticipates that it would be ready for business by April next year.
And in the spirit of the season of giving, caring especially for the children, the centre is optimistic its goal will blossom to reality. So far, some 300 letters have been sent out to companies soliciting donations but with the downturn in the economy and businesses reeling from the effects of the covid19 pandemic the response has not been encouraging.
On Wednesday, the effervescent chief executive officer Jan Sirjusingh, who staffers see as the chief cook and bottle washer, took Sunday Newsday of a tour of the facilities, even as the kitchen was busy preparing for the annual staff luncheon.
“In these times it is difficult to give but you may still find someone out there who can give $500, and that will be $500 more than you had,” she said.
The rusty galvanise over the existing operating theatre provided little cover when it rains and the decision to relocate it to an upper floor was also to protect the costly medical equipment from the devastating floods over the years.
Sirjusingh said when complete the new orthopaedic wing will house all the related facilities under one roof and no longer patients would be exposed to sun or rain when being wheeled to and from surgery.
She said she was grateful for all the help from corporate TT, the government and kind donors but she estimated that to complete the the work on the operating theatre approximately one million dollars was needed again. The money will also help replace some of the ageing equipment.
Sirjusingh said the The Children’s Ark had graciously agreed to fund the construction of the doctor’s lounge, the nurse’s lounge, the nurses’s office, washrooms and the storage area which amounts to about 4,000 square feet of real estate and the centre was relying on the government and corporate entities to complete the other 1,200 square feet of the building.
Annually the centre averages about 200 surgical procedures and specialises in complicated scoliosis (curvature of the spine) under the sturdy hands of its chief surgeon Dr David Toby, who has been with the organisation for over 30 years, and about 1,500 paediatric patients are treated in the clinics. The average cost of one surgery is between $150,000 to $200,000 and parents are asked to give a donation of just over $20,000. Many of them are not able to meet this requirement but the centre has a policy that “no child must be turned away.”
Sirjusingh said nine out of ten times the parents are unable to pay the sum and the centre also has to pay for anaesthetists and $6,000 virtual spinal cord monitor for each operation, titanium screws, rods and pins.
The building which had been officially opened in 1988 by then president Noor Hassanali had previously been used for storage and on room was stacked to the ceiling with old wheelchairs which are salvaged for parts.
A outdoor ramp was constructed at the back to accept patients who arrive by ambulance.
Head theatre nurse Grace Bunsocan beamed with pride as the pointed out the various stations near the operating theatre to prep patients and their recovery rooms.
Workmen were busy screening the floor of the room adjacent to the operating theatre when the Sunday Newsday team visited and another group was completing tiling and refurbishment of the centre’s 50-year-old pool – a separate project sponsored by the National Lotteries Control Board.
Angostura is also funding the complete redo of the children’s play park with the new specialised equipment for children with physical disabilities.
The Princess Elizabeth Home for Handicapped Children was established in 1953 as a gift from then Princess Elizabeth to rehabilitate children afflicted by poliomyelitis. It has been a saviour to children as being the only facility the Caribbean to treat children for varying physical disabilities, provide schooling for special-needs children and free walk-in clinics as well as a dental services, the latter with the help of the Rotary Club of Port of Spain and Dr Godfrey Araujo. The plan is to offer this service to other children’s homes.
The annual recurrent expenditure of approximately $12 million is funded by the government and between 45 to 55 children, between the ages of three to 17, are taught at the school located on the compound.
Sirjusingh is encouraging volunteers to help provide non-academic tuition in music, woodworking, hairdressing and cookery to offer students with a wider range of skills when they graduate and move on.
The centre also benefits from the generosity of Prof Vincent Arlet of the University of Pennsylvania, who heads the neuro-surgery and spinal surgery department as well as Trini-born Dr Edward Abraham, of the University of Chicago, who both visit multiple times annually to help with complicated scoliosis surgeries at no cost.
On Friday, the centre closed its operations until January 4, and hopes a guardian angel will answer their call to be able to give even more than it has been doing for a long time to come.