I had just arrived at the airport in St. Vincent when I heard my name being called from across the lobby. “Ms. Rickman… Susan…” called the voice with a strong Caribbean accent.
I turned around to see two vaguely familiar faces. As they walked closer, my recognition was complete. There stood in front of me one of our earliest heart surgery patients, Kimmy, now a much taller young lady with her mom, Charlotte. It had been nearly a decade before when this then small, fragile baby girl first came to World Pediatric Project for lifesaving surgery. Seeing her now was a proud moment for me. Kimmy was today an energetic, healthy, almost teenager and next to her stood the beaming eyes of a proud mother who had watched her daughter grow and thrive. I was so moved they recognized me and wanted to again offer their gratitude for helping her daughter so many years before.
This airport moment struck me as a poignant symbol of the journey of World Pediatric Project from our small beginning not so many years ago. I still remember my earliest encounters with top governmental officials and physicians in the countries we work. While always welcoming, they often expressed their belief World Pediatric Project would follow the pattern of so many organizations who came before us–well intentioned, but not prepared to sustain their efforts for the long-term.
Yet WPP has persevered. We’ve continued to build and strengthen relationships with our country partners and have remained focused on our goals of providing both immediate and long term access to critical care for children. And, year after year, we’ve healed their children – now in the tens of thousands. As a result, today these government and health care leaders trust and depend on WPP’s partnership approach to accomplish access to pediatric critical care for all the children in the region.
For the Eastern Caribbean region, WPP initiated an innovative approach to centralize care in a region of small island nations. We worked to establish a hub for pediatric critical care in St. Vincent, where the public hospital was receptive to this program. This hub continues to accommodate WPP surgery teams and training initiatives, while welcoming children for surgical care from other island nations in the region. Year by year, we’ve continued to strengthen this hub system, by expanding awareness throughout the region and developing a solid patient identification and referral system. Our goal in this region, as it is everywhere, is to reach as many children as early as possible to provide the best surgical and treatment outcomes.
In recent weeks our regional hub initiative received special endorsements from the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), an intergovernmental organization dedicated to cooperation among the island nations in the Eastern Caribbean, and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the western hemisphere body of the World Health Organization. These are important acknowledgments of WPP’s leadership role in the region and provide a boost to us as we further our efforts in newborn health initiatives and reaching all children needing critical care resources, especially in the areas of orthopedic and cardiac care.