A month after she successfully underwent using microwave ablation surgery to kill four tumours in her liver, cancer survivor Amira Baboolal is now pleading with Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh to make the revolutionary technology available in public hospitals.
Baboolal, 61, of Mount Lambert, said she was a living testimony of the success of microwave ablation (MWA) which destroyed liver tumours using heat generated by microwave energy.
Looking spritely and happy, the 61-year-old grandmother of five, said she was hoping to inspire cancer patients so they will not lose hope. Even as Dr Peng Ewe and Professor Shamir Cawich prepared another patient Wilson Rahay for the same surgery, a thankful Baboolal said she was relieved to know that the cancer was now in remission.
“I want to call on the Minister to look into utilizing this type of technology in the public hospitals so that others can benefit,” she added. Having been diagnosed with colon cancer on August 5, 2017, Baboolal said she underwent emergency surgery to remove a 12-inch tumour from her colon but a year later cancer showed up in her liver.
The attack was aggressive. The first CT scan showed two tumours and a subsequent MRI showed two more.
With the tumours near critical parts of her liver, Baboolal prepared herself for death. However, doctors at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital recommended her for microwave ablation. Professor Cawich and his team met with Baboolal and offered to do the microwave ablation free of charge.
It would be the first time that the technology, made available through Medtronic, would be used in T&T and the English Speaking Caribbean.
After eight hours of surgery, Baboolal said she was discharged and allowed to recuperate at home.
The surgery gave her a 50 per cent chance of surviving longer than 10 years. Cawich said although cancer could show itself again, for now, there were no signs of the disease.
Cawich said Baboolal’s recovery was exciting and gratifying.
“It is exciting because someone who normally has surgery so big would not be in this condition now. They would have been quite weak and not 100 per cent functionality. She is looking and feeling great!” Cawich said. He expressed gratitude to Medtronic for devoting time and resources in organizing the workshop.
He noted that T&T has the largest volume of liver resections across the English speaking Caribbean.
“We have over 60 liver resections a year and two-thirds of that would come in too late so they would not be candidates for surgery.
Microwave ablation offers a new tool to treat 50 per cent of those who come to us. We want to help as many people in T&T and the rest of the Caribbean. We hope the public hospitals could acquire the equipment and make the technology available in the public system.
“Once cancer has spread outside of the colon to the liver, the survival rate, if you do nothing, is about a one per cent chance that you will live up to five years. With the best chemotherapy you have available, the chance is anywhere between five and eight per cent, maybe up to a 10 per cent chance that you will live to five years. With microwave ablation, you can increase that to anywhere between a 30-40 per cent chance so you can see there it is chalk and cheese. Obviously, the best is still surgery. Surgery will give you up to 45 per cent, five-year survival and a chance to survive up to 10 years, which is about 20 per cent. But it again comes at the risk of significant complications,” Cawich said.
He said they were hoping to put systems in place for this to be done.
Contacted for comment Deyalsingh said, “These are serious policy decisions that have to be made in consultation with stakeholders which include the Regional Health Authority and the Chief Medical Officer.”