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St. Mary’s Orthopaedic Surgeon Partners With World Pediatric Project on Life-Saving Spinal Fusion Procedure for Teenager from Eastern Caribbean

Despite her Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Chequana Gilkes has new hope for an improved life, thanks to “new wheels” from a generous local medical supplier

Sept. 13, 2013 – A teenage girl from the Eastern Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who was brought to Richmond by World Pediatric Project for a posterior spinal fusion surgery, now has a new outlook on life following the successful procedure performed by Richmond pediatric orthopaedic surgeon Chester Sharps, M.D., and the generosity of Richmond-based Trustcare Home Medical Equipment.

Since birth, 18 year-old Chequana Gilkes has suffered from Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a debilitating motor-neuron disease, combined with severe scoliosis. Her 80-degree spine curvature, along with muscle weakness from SMA, prevented her from being able to walk. Her severe spine curvature also was threatening her heart and lung function. During a World Pediatric Project mission to Milton Cato Memorial Hospital on St. Vincent two years ago, Dr. Sharps deemed Chequana’s case too complicated for treatment in-country.

“When Chequana first came to us at Milton Cato, we immediately knew that her condition put her at-risk of long-term survival,” said Dr. Sharps, who has led orthopaedic missions for World Pediatric Project and currently is initiating an orthopaedic program at Milton Cato. “Most scoliosis cases we treat there are idiopathic curvatures, but Chequana’s case involved neuromuscular curvature. Her treatment required the best pediatric intensive care available, and we made that happen by bringing Chequana to St. Mary’s.”

On July 30, Chequana underwent a posterior spinal fusion. In the four-hour procedure, screws were placed in every vertebrae. Two rods were contoured to the normal spine alignment, thus bringing the spine to the rods. The procedure resulted in completely straightening Chequana’s spine, improving her quality of life. Due to her SMA, Chequana will continue to require a wheelchair.

“Chequana is a bright, ambitious girl who with the success of this surgery has high hopes of finishing her education and starting a career in her own country,” added Sharps. “Like many people in St. Vincent, she is extremely grateful for the medical care she has received.”

As she prepares to return to St. Vincent next week, Chequana goes home with a new, custom-fit manual wheelchair donated by Trustcare Home Medical Equipment, a local company based in Glen Allen, valued at around $1,300.

“I am honored that Dr. Sharps and his staff had the confidence in the Trustcare team to include us in the support of Chequana and her family,” said Mark Armstrong, president, Trustcare Home Medical Equipment. “We are delighted to contribute in this wonderful effort.”

Manufactured by Invacare, Chequana’s new 14-inch wheelchair has been adjusted for her size and condition. It includes an extended seat to fit her tall frame, as well as an adjustable back cushion, for added comfort. It will aid her in navigating around St. Vincent, an island country with few paved roadways or sidewalks.

“World Pediatric Project is committed to providing needed medical services and care to young patients like Chequana, whose condition might otherwise have been left untreated,” said Susan Rickman. “We are grateful to Dr. Sharps and the pediatric team at St. Mary’s, whose dedicated care and successful surgery have improved Chequana’s health and posture. We also thank Trustcare Home Medical for this much-needed wheelchair, empowering Chequana to be a more independent, productive member of society.”

World Pediatric Project is one of the few humanitarian organizations dedicated to improving lives in the eastern Caribbean; this includes providing care to underserved patients, as well as providing on-site training to local doctors and medical personnel. To-date, World Pediatric Project has led nine orthopaedic missions to Milton Cato, including two scoliosis-specific missions in 2011 and 2012. A third scoliosis mission to St. Vincent and the Grenadines is planned for November 2013.

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