Dr. Myron Rolle has attained his goal. He successfully crowdfunded $200,000 to help fund the CARICOM Neurosurgical Initiative (CNI) to implement solutions to solve the issue of neurosurgical disease across the Caribbean.
A $3,675 donation by Sean Pittman on Friday, July 9, pushed Rolle to his goal, from 160 donors, which allowed Rolle to begin to take the steps he needed to ensure Caribbean residents have equitable access to quality and timely neurosurgical care, which includes aiming to improve public policy, develop clinical practice, and build research and education capacity.
The donations did not stop, pushing the account up to $202,305 as of Sunday.
“We aim to promote government engagement and facilitate ongoing support for neurosurgery as a strategic national priority,” Rolle told The Nassau Guardian of the initiative scheduled for a January 2022 start.
Rolle expects to be in New Providence for eight weeks at the kickoff, managing it from the ground, followed by stints in Barbados, then Guyana.
“We aim to establish a sustainable framework for the sharing of best practices, sharing of clinical knowledge and promotion of novel modalities to treat a variety of neurosurgical diseases. We aim to facilitate collaboration in understanding the regional neurosurgical disease burden, catalyze organically produced research, and expand neurosurgical coverage through educational tools devoted to task shifting of frontline healthcare workers.”
The CNI will be operated under the Caribbean Neurosurgery Foundation, Inc. and the Myron L. Rolle Foundation.
Rolle, a fourth-year neurosurgery resident at Massachusetts General Hospital, created the GoFundMe page on May 13, to jumpstart fundraising. Donations can also be made at the Caribbean Neurosurgery Foundation, Inc. website at www.caribbeannf.org.
The donations will assist in covering visiting professorship costs (supporting the travel and logistics of visiting professors to bring their clinical research expertise to a CARICOM nation). The goal of the visiting professorship program is to share knowledge, skills, and best practices with fellow providers and students to expand the neurosurgical capacity in the region; surgical equipment costs (purchasing, implementing and maintaining new surgical equipment to allow medical staff in the Caribbean to operate without resource-related limitations); virtual neurotrauma teaching module costs (utilizing the professional virtual space to educate and train nurses around CARICOM regarding neurotrauma task shifting to expand neurosurgical coverage – especially in the more remote, vulnerable islands); production of public service announcements (PSAs) to prevent traumatic brain injury (leveraging media resources to develop, produce and air PSAs unique to each CARICOM nation to advocate for preventative measures and create awareness around the potential harm to children and adults alike); and government and major stakeholder policy meeting costs (supporting the travel and logistics of policy advocates to present and implement policy items to the government officials and major stakeholders of CARICOM nations). The goal of the policy meetings he said is to effectively address gaps in neurosurgical care further upstream, (so as to prevent catastrophic consequences); neurotrauma registry costs (collating patient data in a shared, secured place to inform clinical management and influence policy around neurosurgical disease); and CNI fund operations (administrative and operational costs).
For Rolle, the CNI is personal. His aunt, Annie Gwendolyn Smith, died in 2010, after being hit by a car and having had to wait seven hours for her head trauma to be evaluated by a neurosurgeon. By the time she was seen, he said it was too late. His aunt died.
“My whole world had changed,” Rolle previously told The Nassau Guardian. “Someone who was so close to me, and someone who I admired so much was taken away from me, instantly. We lost a pillar, a champion, our hero and that was a really hard time for all of us. After we lost Aunty, I started doing research. I wanted to know why she was forced to wait seven hours to be evaluated.”
Rolle said he realized his aunt’s death was the product of a broader systemic problem in the Caribbean. And that the Caribbean’s geography is one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to patients getting trauma-related care, due to the distance between the islands. Lack of centralization, he said, makes it impossible to treat all of the trauma-related cases within the recommended four-hour window.
On his GoFundMe page, Rolle said there is approximately one neurosurgeon per 600,000 people in CARICOM countries, which means, he explained, that many urgent or emergent neurosurgery cases in the region will not make it to the hospital in time, or if they do, there may not be anyone there to treat them. He said these common scenarios results in permanent neurological damage or death.
“After [Aunty] passed, I couldn’t help but think that her death could have been prevented. I was not a medical professional, I was not a neurosurgeon, but I knew there was a solution, and I was committed to help finding it.”
Rolle, who, at that time was still playing in the National Football League (NFL), said finding the solution started with him altering his career. He retired from the NFL in 2013, and applied to medical school with one goal in mind – to become a neurosurgeon and fix the medical disaster, and pursue his other passion, neurosurgery.
Rolle applied and was accepted into Florida State University College of Medicine and got right to work. Within four years, he graduated medical school and matched to neurosurgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. At the same time, he began traveling and meeting doctors in the Caribbean, working with them to explore ways to solve the issues of neurosurgical disease.
“I wanted to make sure that no one faced the same issue my aunty had faced.”
One of the people he met was Dr. Susheel Wadhwa, one of only two neurosurgeons in The Bahamas. After meeting with Wadhwa, Rolle went back to Boston and got to work on the initiative. He said he reached out to some of the best medical professionals he knew – people with a background in policy, neurosurgery and international implementation, and asked for their help. They brainstormed to come up with a plan of attack, and together started CNI.
“It’s an initiative in a landscape like The Bahamas, and CARICOM is a great idea because it’s bringing in all of the neurosurgical community of the 15 CARICOM countries together,” said Wadhwa.
“That way, we can look at what our strengths and weaknesses are, and how we can collectively overcome them and have CARICOM as a whole be known for neurosurgical services.”
Rolle said Caribbean islands are more than just a vacation destination and are home to around 16 million people who, right now, are served by just a handful of neurosurgeons with limited capacity – people who he believes deserve equal access to healthcare.
“My aunty was the pillar of my household and I know how hard it was for us when she passed away, especially knowing that there was a chance that she could have been saved. No one deserves to lose a family member because of a preventable death.”