Hers is a history of health care, mentorship, research and pioneering work in halting the transfer of a once dreaded disease on to new-borns, and for these four decades of exceptional service Dr Margaret Anne St John has received acclaim from colleagues.
The retiring paediatrician who gave most of her service to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and helped other health professionals passing through that institution, received accolades in the best possible form – tribute from peers – as she delivered a Legacy Lecture in the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Henry Fraser Theatre, on Tuesday, July 31, 2018.
“She is someone who has introduced many positive changes in the health care of children in this country,” said Professor in Paediatrics and Infectious Diseases, Cave Hill and Associated Consultant Paediatrician at QEH Dr Alok Kumar. He added that Dr St John “spent almost her entire life dedicated to the health and welfare of children of this nation”.
He described the QEH Senior Consultant Paediatrician and UWI, Cave Hill, Honorary Professor in Paediatrics as someone blessed with, “a truly multi-faceted personality, a dedicated paediatrician, an avid researcher and an able administrator”.
Dr Kumar recalled that his first meeting with Dr St John in 1996 “had such a lasting effect on my own career that I decided to stay back in this country despite at first having sights set on the United States”.
Dr St John practised paediatric medicine for the past 42 years with 38 of these dedicated to working in the care of children in the Department of Paediatrics at the QEH.
Her colleague, Dr Carol Lady Haynes added that St John “put a stamp on her profession” through her work at a time of few female doctors.
Describing her as a doctor who “liked her children,” Lady Haynes said her colleague was one of “the most committed paediatricians [who] blazed a trail for many in paediatrics”.
Barbados achieved the historic goal of halting mother-to-child AIDS transmission in 2015, placing this island among the first to attain such heights after Cuba. Lady Haynes said this achievement “is to a great extent, due to Anne’s meticulous follow-up and commitment to that programme”.
Ensuring that almost all Barbadian children can get a fair chance at a normal childhood was just one of St John’s many achievements, and two years ago the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners honoured her for her work in the profession.
On that occasion, the then QEH Head of the Department of Paediatrics Dr Vikash Chatrani said the BAMP honour was to salute “the clinical work, research, dedication and medical leadership of an outstanding professor and paediatrician”. He added, “our country was a leader in approaching and reaching almost universal antenatal testing and treating potentially HIV exposed children, and we have seen the instances of mother- to-child HIV transmission almost disappear. This is a most significant accomplishment for Barbados, and it would never have happened without Anne St John’s relentless dedication to the issue, focus on the details and dogged pursuit of anything that interfered with the comprehensive and efficient implementation of the programme. I wish to further point out that in addition to her work in caring for infected children, the decrease in the mother-to-child transmission of HIV means that there are healthy children in our community who, but for Prof. St John, would be HIV infected,” Chatrani said.
Dr St John was described as “a mentor to a generation of paediatricians who did their specialty training at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital”. Among the many past interns and colleagues speaking through messages or in person in the Henry Fraser Theatre was QEH Consultant Physician Dr Kenneth Connell who said to Dr St John, “you were always a mentor to me outside the Department of Medicine. I was very impressed with your no-nonsense attitude, your attention to detail. The one thing that you have instilled in me is that sense of the human side of medicine and made me able to feel the sorrow when disappointments happen with relatives and patients. And celebrate with them when they recover and are able to leave hospital.”
A point consistently made throughout the session was that given the hard worker she is, there is a suspicion that Barbados has not lost the services of this outstanding doctor to retirement, but Dr St John is expected to continue to feature in this island’s medical sphere. (GA)