United States-based, Barbados-born surgeon Dr Velma Scantlebury who has been described as a “trailblazer” and “one of the world’s medical rock stars” owing to her pioneering work in the profession, has just published her life story entitled Behind Every Wall.
Speaking at the official launch of the book at the Barbados Consulate General Office in New York recently, Consul-General Mackie Holder referred to Dr Scantlebury as a “Medical genius who stands in a place by herself, and has set a bar that can never be scaled again when in 1989 she became the first black female transplant surgeon”.
Dr Mark Hardy, the doctor with whom she worked when she performed her first transplant surgery, was also in attendance at the launch. He noted that she was training as a pediatric surgeon when she became interested in performing transplants.
“Her real journey in transplantation began in 1986 with Dr Starzl, the man who is considered the inventor of liver transplantation, and Dr Scantlebury has done the most extraordinary work with liver transplantation in children. In fact, her reputation as a technical surgeon is such that when she worked with Dr Starzl in Pittsburgh, he entrusted her with all the liver transplants in children.”
One of her earlier liver transplant patients, some 30 years ago, was an eleven-month-old girl named Gayle Watson, who was a patient at the Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. One of Watson’s relatives gave the following testimony:
“We knew that things would go well when we heard an accent like ours and saw someone who looked like us. Back then, Gayle was only 11 months and given little hope for survival. Fast forward, she received a liver transplant and beat the odds in every way, excelling at Seton Hall and Howard University. Today, she is a Speech Pathologist in Maryland.”
Dr Scantlebury has also performed over 2, 000 kidney transplants during her career.
Holder described the book as an “engrossing and inspiring read,” stating that, “I love the writing style, which is as clinical as I imagine Dr Scantlebury is in the operating room and there are some nice turns of phrase. The academic journey is, of course, central, but what I found equally critical and unflinching, is the treating to family and the frankness of professional, but more poignantly, personal struggles. Everyone will find his or her inspiration from this book.”
When she took to the stage, Dr Scantlebury shared some of her story, including her childhood in the Deacons Road and Westbury areas, her secondary school experience at the Alleyne School, progress and setbacks after she emigrated to the United States, as well as some humorous anecdotes. She also answered some questions on medical issues.
Consul-General Holder presented her with two gifts during the event, including a collage entitled A Life in Pictures, and a crystal tower with a picture of the Careenage lasered into it.