Dr. Myron Rolle is excited about the opportunity to deliver quality, equitable and timely care through the Caribbean Neurosurgery Foundation which is expected to kick off in The Bahamas in January 2022.
“I’m excited about it. It’s my passion,” Rolle told The Nassau Guardian. “I return home second week in January and will spend close to four months in Nassau. I will do some operations at PMH [Princess Margaret Hospital] and Doctors [Hospital] and Rand [Memorial Hospital, Grand Bahama].”
Rolle is coming off of a recent stint in Zambia with the Caribbean Neurosurgery Foundation, where he and other doctors operated on patients in need of brain surgery, including a young child, examined post-op patients, and paid for transport and food for patients/families.
The experience he said was invaluable as he prepares to return home.
“Great training/experience for what we’re trying to do in the Caribbean,” said Rolle.
The doctor took to crowdfunding earlier this year to raise funds for the CARICOM Neurosurgical Initiative (CNI). He raised $207,236 through GoFundMe, surpassing his $200,000 goal, which he said excited him.
“I was thrilled to see the amount of support for our vision. Generous people showed they care about others.”
He said their support also told him that they are now charged with the responsibility of making the foundation a success because people believe in them.
“Starting in January, we are fired up to do so. I have loved working under pressure and the push to raise the level of standard,” said Rolle.
Through CNI, his goal is to implement solutions to help solve the issue of neurosurgical disease across the Caribbean.
“We’re very excited about the progress of the fundraising campaign for the CARICOM Neurosurgical Initiative! It shows that people – local and international – see the value in improving the access and quality of care to the most vulnerable populations,” Rolle told The Nassau Guardian in an earlier interview.
CNI is about ensuring Caribbean residents have equitable access to quality and timely neurosurgical care and include aiming to improve public policy, develop clinical practice, and build research and education capacity.
“We aim to promote government engagement and facilitate ongoing support for neurosurgery as a strategic national priority,” said Rolle.
CNI will be operated under the Caribbean Neurosurgery Foundation, Inc. and the Myron L. Rolle Foundation.
After jumpstarting the initiative in New Providence, Rolle’s intent is to follow his home stint with visits to other islands in the Caribbean.
“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,” he earlier told The Nassau Guardian.
The crowdfunding 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 said in an online video announcing the initiative. “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 trauma-related cases within the recommended four-hour window.
Rolle said there is approximately one neurosurgeon per 600,000 people in CARICOM countries, which means 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,” he said in his video. “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.”
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.”