Neurosurgery clinic opens

Cayman’s first surgical neurosurgery has opened at Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital.

Dr. James Akinwunmi

Dr. James Akinwunmi using the operating microscope during surgery on Harriet Seymour.

The clinic has been set up to see both private and government-funded patients, as approved and referred by their medical insurance providers.

Dr. James Akinwunmi, who was born in England and trained in Cambridge, Birmingham and the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, London, will visit Cayman for a week each month to work at the clinic.

He has more than 20 years of experience and has family ties to the island that has drawn him to Cayman.

One patient who has already benefitted from the work of Dr. Akinwunmi in Cayman, is Maria Antunez.

Ms Antunez, from Honduras, has been living and working in Grand Cayman for 12 years. She awoke on the morning of 21 July with a thumping head ache and with the room spinning about her.

‘I was terribly sick and I had a massive pain in the side of my head. I asked my brother to hold me… I couldn’t sit up and I slumped down in his arms; I knew I was dying,’ she said.

Her brother had arrived three days earlier and was able to take his sister Maria to hospital.

‘I was so scared,’ she said. ‘I could barely stand up because of the spinning and vomiting.’

Bracing herself against the walls, Maria made her way to the entrance of the Cayman Islands Hospital. An orderly saw very quickly how much trouble she was in and lead her right into the emergency area.

The hospital called on Dr. Akinwunmi.

‘They saw me so fast’ said Ms Antunez. ‘He used a small light to look in my eyes and asked me when my symptoms had started.’

From the scans performed, Dr. Akinwunmi diagnosed the patient with Acute Hydrocephalus of the brain caused by cerebellar brain swelling.

‘They told me that I needed to go into surgery immediately’ she said.

Using the operating theatre at Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital, Dr. Akinwunmi along with Dr. Sidney Ebanks carried out the life-saving surgery. Ms Antunez was then transferred back to the critical care unit at the Hospital Services Authority.

‘Maria’s case is prevalent to all in Cayman. Having the life-saving neurosurgery here means that people do not have to be transferred by air ambulance out to Miami or Jamaica,’ said Dr. Greg Hoeksema, the HAS’s Medical Director.

‘In Maria’s case, she would have had to get medivact out at great expense – being a foreign national poses problems with entry visas – even in emergencies. The lives and monetary savings of not having to be evacuated will make everyone in the Cayman Islands breathe a sigh of relief,’ he added.

Lying in her hospital bed the HSA surgical ward two days later, and on the mend, Ms Antunez was thanking God with tears in her eyes. ‘I have been given a second chance to see my four beautiful children again; I am really going to make the most of my second chance. I can’t stop praying,’ she said.

She will be closely monitored in her recovery by resident physicians and physiotherapists who have direct contact with Dr. Akinwunmi while he is practicing in England, before his monthly week-long visit to Cayman.

Dr. Akinwunmi said: ‘Finally I am in a position to really help the people residing here, offering a service that is currently not available except for overseas.’

‘While Dr. Akinwunmi feels privileged to have the opportunity – it’s really the Cayman Islands that is extraordinarily lucky to have this type of facility,’ said Dr. Steve Tomlinson.

Dr. Akinwunmi started building the idea and the practice several years ago in February 2007 and is now able to open his doors to the public. He has invested more than US$250,000 for surgical equipment in Cayman enabling him to perform surgical tasks. ‘I work using an operating microscope and microscopic equipment – making sure I do the least invasive type of surgery that leaves minimal tissue trauma to the patient,’ said Dr. Akinwunmi.

‘ It is important that we (surgeons) achieve our treatment objectives via minimal invasive surgical techniques, if possible, to allow the patient to have the best chance of early recovery, which in turn enables them to return home and back to their normal lives,’ he added.

Dr. Akinwunmi believes that the current collaboration between himself, the Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital, the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority and all the medical practitioners in the Cayman Islands, is important in making the neurosurgical clinic a true success.

‘This way, the Cayman Islands community gets the best benefits going forward,’ he said.

He said he found the nursing staff at the hospitals very skilled. ‘Their extensive training and experience has certainly made starting and running the clinic a lot easier,’ he said

He also hopes that the medical school on Grand Cayman will train new doctors who will eventually take over the service in the future. His commitment and aspirations for the future will allow for new equipment, growth and investment within the surgical neurology clinic.

Dr. Akinwunmi’s interest in neurosurgery began while he was studying to be a doctor. ‘I was intrigued by the anatomy of the brain and spine’ he said. He has a general neurosurgical practice with a special interest in spinal pain management, brain and spinal tumours and degenerative spinal diseases as well as microscopic spinal surgery in England.

It was microscopic spinal back surgery that was to aid another patient here in the Cayman Islands. Harriet Seymour came to Chrissie Tomlinson hospital with extreme pain in her leg. On a scale of 0-to-10 she classified her pain as a 10.

After a thorough exam, Dr. Akinwunmi diagnosed her with a ruptured disc in her spine. The doctor, along with Dr. Sidney Ebanks, was able to perform microscopic surgery which allowed them to remove part of the ruptured disc on the patient’s spine.

She was back home the following day, with her pain threshold being a 0 on the scale of 0-to-10.

Dr. James Akinwunmi shares his practice at Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital with his colleague Peter Kowlesser. From Trinidad, Dr. Kowlesser was chosen by Dr. Akinwunmi, having worked with him in the UK for more than 10 years.

The doctors will be available on a monthly basis over the course of the year.