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6th December 2016

Helping teenagers get the right start in life

At barely 18, Jerdain had such intense back pain that he couldn’t even touch his toes.

Jerdain is one of the estimated 90,000 people – most of them children and teenagers – who have scoliosis in Jamaica. Scoliosis is a condition that creates an “S” or “C” curvature in the spine and that mostly affects teenagers. People with mild scoliosis can live a perfectly normal and active life. However, when it is severe and not treated early enough, scoliosis can cause terrible back pain and pressure on other organs like the lungs and heart. This can in turn lead to other health issues including breathing difficulties.

Jerdain needed corrective spinal surgery to treat his scoliosis, or he’d run the risk of developing more serious health issues, bringing along grim prospects for his education and professional life. However, health facilities in Jamaica are often unable to provide the implants for these complex spine surgeries, and Jerdain’s family couldn’t afford the expensive surgery.

That’s when the Duncan Tree Foundation came to Jerdain’s aid. Thanks to the charity, he was able to get the surgery on site for free, performed by an experienced team including local spine surgeons and nurses, assisted by the foundation’s medical team. This Is MedTech sat down with Carl Frederique, Youth Chair  interim secretary at the foundation, to find out more about how the charity is bringing life-changing surgery to people in need.

“It’s really important for us to help these teenagers get the right start in life,” says Carl. Getting surgery also makes children and teenagers with scoliosis feel more confident and empowered. “Beyond the physical pain, there’s also the psychological pain. These kids and teenagers get bullied and made fun of because they look different.”

Founded in 2008, the Duncan Tree Foundation is a non-profit organisation based in the United States. It helps young people in underserved communities get access to proper social and medical care.

The charity is named after its founder, Ouida Duncan.

In 2008, Ouida needed a biopsy after being diagnosed with enlarged lymph nodes, a possible sign of breast cancer.  She was lucky enough to have access to medical care and even luckier to be told that her biopsy results were benign. This episode in her life pushed her to pause and wonder: “What happens to people who don’t have access to healthcare in these situations?” That’s when she decided to found her charity to help people in need. Born in Jamaica, Ouida decided to spend a significant portion of the charity’s resources towards improving health for local patients in Jamaica – given the importance of the issue in the country.

Providing free spine corrective surgeries is only one of the many initiatives led by the Duncan Tree Foundation. “Our aim is to improve health services locally in the long term. We run training programmes for medical staff on-site and help increase capacity at local hospitals,” adds Carl. “Thanks to donations, we’re also able to supply surgical material to make sure hospitals and healthcare centres are better equipped.”

So far, more than 100 children and teenagers have seen their lives changed thanks to the free surgery provided through the foundation’s programme. This amazing success does not erase the day-to-day challenges for volunteers. “Beyond the logistics, empowering the teenagers we treat and the broader Jamaican youth community is an issue we’re seeking to improve. That’s where we’re going to put a lot of effort in the next couple years,” adds Carl.

What is next for the foundation? “We definitely want to bring in more young people to be involved with the charity,” explains Carl. “We‘re also planning a Youth Empowerment Summit in Jamaica next year, to educate young people about the importance of taking care of their well-being, and the role they play in elevating the Jamaican and Caribbean society at large to reach its full potential.”

Indeed, the foundation – whose motto is “healing and teaching around the globe”- is keen to go beyond its focus on scoliosis in the future. “Ultimately we hope that we can expand our work and outreach programmes to promote physical and mental well-being for young people overall” adds Carl.

For more information, please visit Duncan Tree Foundation website.

 

Jerdain (left) pictured with founder Ouida Duncan (center) and Jerdain’s mother (right)