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Caribbean nationals that seek success abroad are often chastised for contributing to the regional ‘brain drain’ — but recent trends in diaspora engagement point, in fact, to the reverse: a ‘brain gain’.

This is certainly the case of Trinidadian Dr. Gerard Antoine, American Board Certified Physician and Rehabilitation Specialist, and the founder of Caribbean Medical Providers Practicing Abroad (CMPPA).

CMPPA is an organisation of a diverse group of international medical and non-medical professionals dedicated to “giving back” to the people of the Caribbean to improve health care services in the region.

Dr. Antoine is proud to have achieved his dream earlier in June 2014 through CMPPA’s three-day Medical Conference & Community Outreach Programme in Trinidad. The Conference focused on rehabilitation techniques and equipment for stroke patients, and attendees also volunteered their services to local communities.

In collaboration with The Ministry of Health, The Trinidad and Tobago Red Cross Society, The University of the West Indies and The University of Trinidad and Tobago; CMPPA brought in approximately 50 professionals including physicians, registered nurses and volunteers, who attended to over 300 patients in the communities of Chaguanas, Morvant and Arima in Trinidad.

June 2015 will see the continuation and expansion of these efforts in a similar vein in the sister isle of Tobago. Cancer will be the focus of the 2015 CMPPA Medical Conference & Community Outreach Programme.

“Giving back to the Caribbean has always been my intention,” says Dr. Antoine, who migrated to the United States of America in 1978. “I remember applying to medical school, and when I had to indicate a forward-thinking career plan, my answer, year after year, was always: to give back.”

A Passion for Rehab

Dr. Antoine’s desire to go into the medical profession was due in part to his mother, who died in 1972 in Trinidad during routine childbirth.

He began in family practice, but switched to rehabilitation medicine early in his career upon discovering his true passion.

“I was a respiratory therapist before going to medical school,  and one of my mentors was a spinal cord injury patient that had what is called ‘C5 complete’ — an injury high along the spinal cord; only his eyes moved,” explains Dr. Antoine.

“He used a ‘sip and puff’ controller wheelchair, combined with a device that allowed him to use a computer to communicate and control his world around him. My interaction with him really steered me along the path to rehabilitation practice.”

Community outreach programme

CMPPA’s Community outreach programme

Dr. Antoine practices Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation in the United States.

He is also a member of the International Spine Intervention Society, the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, the National Medical Association and the American Medical Association.

Although “giving back” to his homeland had always been a long-standing dream of Dr. Antoine’s, he admits that his good intentions had to be deferred until later in his career.

“I see life as a succession of 4 S’s — Survival, Stability, Success, and Significance,” he says.

“When you are now starting out, it is a struggle for Survival, and if you try to help others in a big way, you yourself will drown. But once you are settled (Stable), and reach a state of Success, the next step is to really do something Significant.”

CMPPA: A ‘Vehicle’ for Volunteers

cmppa3He was able to achieve his ‘Significant’ evolution in 2006, when he founded CMPPA, dedicating the organisation to the memory of his mother.

CMPPA is a registered 501 (c) (3) non-profit organisation of volunteers, all of whom are responsible for financing their own costs for medical missions to the Caribbean. Its membership currently stands at over 500 professionals, and is constantly increasing.

“Throughout my career, I have met many Caribbean professionals who want to give back, but no one takes you seriously when you are by yourself,” explains Dr. Antoine.

There is power and strength in numbers. That is the key function of CMPPA — providing this vehicle for those who want to give back and volunteer their time and services.”

He notes that there are also many medical and non-medical professionals who take part in the Conference and outreach efforts despite having no ties to the country or region.

“We are open and welcoming to all who want to share knowledge, or even just lend a helping hand,” he adds.

Dr. Antoine’s vision is to eventually establish The Trinidad and Tobago Neurological Rehabilitation Hospital, specialising in brain and spinal cord injuries.

Success at CMPPA’s 1st annual event

The key topic of the June 2014 Medical Conference, Strokes and Traumatic Brain Injuries, touched on a matter that is of particular interest to Dr. Antoine.

“There is a high prevalence of strokes in Trinidad and Tobago, compared to the developed world,” he says. “But what really struck me, having worked abroad, is the attitude towards it.

“In the Western world such as the U.S., you get a stroke and you go from acute care, to stabilisation, to acute rehab facility with an intensive rehab programme of at least 6-8 weeks; then you go home with the goal of returning to work. In the Caribbean, too often even a slight stroke is a life sentence — the patient may never regain full capacity, and often never returns to work.”

For this purpose, at every conference he attends around the world, he emphasises the role of rehabilitation through whichever means are available — speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, music therapy, art therapy, and other forms.

Another key factor he underscores is the need for public education, which is a core aspect of the CMPPA’s community outreach programmes.

He notes that while Trinidad and Tobago’s medical system is far ahead many other countries he has worked in, there is still a great need, and his hope is to add value and contribute to the efforts of The Ministry of Health and other organisations.

“Many people may not have access to appropriate healthcare, whether through the lack of existing structures in their area to promote it, or their own reluctance or lack of interest,” he explains.

“The first step is public healthcare. I have met women over the age of 40 who have never had a pap smear, and men over 50 who don’t know that they should get a colonoscopy. Many people have undiagnosed diabetes. The numbers are staggering, and the first step is education.”

CMPPA’s 2nd annual event: Tobago 2015

The 2015 Conference will be held at the Magdalena Grand Hotel in Tobago

The 2015 Conference will be held at the Magdalena Grand Beach & Spa Resort in Tobago

CMPPA’s 2015 Medical Conference & Community Outreach Program aims to be even more successful than its predecessor, and Dr. Antoine strives to continue building upon these efforts in years to come.

The lineup for Tobago in June 2015 includes:

  • CINDY M.P. DUKE, M.D., Ph.D.
    Clinical Fellow/Instructor Division of Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences, Yale School of Medicine – Yale New Haven Hospital, New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.A.
  • MRS. ANELYN DELMONTE-PURIFOY, PT
    Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation of the Female Stroke and Cancer Patient, Pelvic Floor and Women’s Physical Therapy Specialist, U.S. Army, Fort Belvoir, Virginia
  • ELOISE CHAPMAN-DAVIS, M.D.
    Assistant Professor, Tufts University School of Medicine: Gynecology Oncology, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts
  • MARY C. HANNAH, PT, DPT, OCS, SCS
    Diagnosing and treating Myofascial Trigger Points & Pain, Double E PT Education, North Carolina
  • Dr. MARSHALEE GEORGE, PhD, MSPH, MSN, AOCNP, CRNP-A
    Breast Cancer in the Caribbean, Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Department of Surgery, Division of Surgical Oncology, Johns Hopkins Avon Breast Center, The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Speech and Language Pathology in the Management of the Brain Injury and Cancer Patient
  • Physical Therapy Hands On & Break Out Sessions
    • The Use of Manual Therapy Techniques & Kinesiotaping for Stroke Patients
    • Dry Needling Techniques for Musculoskeletal Pathology and Myofascial pain
    • Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation of the Female Stroke Patient
  • Occupational Therapy Hands On & Break Out Sessions
  • Speech and Language Pathology Hands on & Break Out Sessions

Trinidadian-based professionals that will also contribute their time and services to the upcoming event include Mrs. Chevaughn Joseph, Founder of The Just Because Foundation, a non-profit Paedriatric Cancer Support Organisation; Mrs. Claudia Groom Duke, Secretary, Division of Health and Social Services in Tobago; Rasheed U. Adam, BSc, MB (Edin), FRCSC, Diplomate of the American Boards of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Electroencepathology, Trinidad & Tobago; Ms. Terry-Ann George, Nutritionist, Trinidad & Tobago; and renowned urologist Dr. Lall Sawh, CMT, MB, FRCS  (featured in WellnessConnect’s Issue 4).

“It’s amazing what we have done, and what we continue to do, in connecting these people from around the world to bring value back home,” adds Dr. Antoine.

“Medicine is sharing and learning from each other; every little bit can make a real difference in a patient’s life.”

Dr. Antoine can be contacted in Hawaii, U.S.A. at +1 (571) 237 6834 or via email at [email protected]. Also visit the website www.cmppa.org.

Be sure to also check out the article written by Dr. Antoine for WellnessConnect  on Occupational Cancers.

What You Need To Know

  • CMPPA’s services provided through its community outreach efforts include:
    • Basic Health Care Assessment
    • Paediatric Health Care Assessment
    • Blood Pressure Screening
    • Diabetic Screening
    • Minor Surgical Procedures
    • Basic Eye Examination and Eye Glasses Distribution
    • Distribution of Medical Equipment and Supplies
  • CMPPA is a voluntary 501 (C) (3) organisation and is entirely funded by its members and kind contributions from the public. Your generosity gives CMPPA the resources needed to help the people of the Caribbean access world class medical care. Funds go towards mission trips to the Caribbean, providing transportation and housing, medical supplies and equipment for the volunteer medical team. Click here to make a difference and donate to this cause.
  • CMPPA welcomes new members. As a member, you will receive quarterly newsletters, and access to CMPPA’s Member Forums. Click here to become a member.