Nearly 200 Cayman Islands healthcare professionals, both living and dead, were honored Monday during the annual Heroes Day ceremony in downtown George Town for their service to the local community.
“These are the everyday heroes who have dedicated their lives in service of this country,” Premier Alden McLaughlin said during the event that drew several hundred people to Heroes Square. “[They have done so] never once thinking that what they did was heroic.”
Among the honorees were four members of one family, all of whom were awarded as “Pioneers” or “Emerging Pioneers” in the local healthcare industry.
They include: Dr. Gerald Smith, an anesthetist at the Cayman Islands Hospital; Sarah Rebecca Smith, Dr. Smith’s sister, a medical technician who opened Cayman’s first outpatient lab, and Phillip and Jacqueline Ebanks, the son and daughter-in-law of Ms. Smith, who founded the Cayman Heart Health Centre in 2009.
Dr. Smith, the former chief medical officer for the Cayman Islands, is a member of a number of advisory and regulatory boards in the islands and has been recognized for mentoring other Caymanian physicians.
His sister Rebecca has been equally influential, being credited with a number of Cayman Islands healthcare “firsts,” involving making outpatient X-rays, mammogram testing and Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans available locally. Ms. Smith started at the Cayman Islands Hospital in 1967 as a lab tech who had to learn on the job and, after completing her formal education in New York, opened her own lab at her family’s home nine years later.
“I was pregnant with my second child … I needed to stay home and take care of the children,” Ms. Smith recalls. “But I decided I wanted to work too. So we had this big utility room and the only thing in it was a washer and dryer. It cost me 5,000 pounds to set up this lab.”
The home-based lab, which would become the Cayman Clinic in the 1980s, drew blood tests for private doctors. Ms. Smith at the time was also the only government analyst for marijuana in the islands. Police test samples were kept in the family refrigerator until they could be dealt with.
From relatively humble beginnings arose what is today known as the Phoenix Clinic, the Medical Specialists and Cayman Neurology and Pain Management, all owned by Ms. Smith.
Her son Phillip Ebanks and his wife Jacqueline started the Cayman Heart Health Centre in 2009. When it opened, it was the only local outpatient facility dedicated to noninvasive heart health treatments that used nuclear cardiology scans.
Mrs. Ebanks said they began the clinic after the death of Mr. Ebanks’s father due to complications from a heart attack.
“[Heart care outpatient services] were very minimal at the time,” Mrs. Ebanks said. “We specifically focused on cardiology and that just didn’t exist at the time.”
Since February 2014, Health City Cayman Islands hospital has been offering both invasive and non-invasive heart health procedures.
Premier McLaughlin, who has no small number of medical professionals in his family, including father McNee McLaughlin, the islands’ first public health officer, and nurse Beulah McLaughlin, his aunt, said Cayman has a strong history of having a healthy population “with little or no resources, other than [the health practitioners] themselves.”
He pointed Sunday’s 106th birthday celebrations of “Aunt” Julia Hydes of West Bay, now believed to be the islands’ oldest Caymanian, as evidence of this fact.
Other medical services on the islands that have been made available in more recent decades have also been recognized by no less an authority than Her Majesty, the Queen of England.
Dr. Virginia Hobday was announced earlier this year as a recipient of the Member of the Order of the British Empire for her work with Cayman HospiceCare. Dr. Hobday also received a Heroes Day honor as an “Emerging Pioneer.”
She said Monday that she was glad to see Cayman attitudes to the hospice service becoming more accepting. “There’s been huge changes,” she said. “A lot more people understand what it’s about.”