Revisiting the Medical Past at LAMCO’s Stephen A. Tolbert Memorial Hospital, Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, 1978! Neurological Surgery performed by Dr. Varney Freeman, the Hospital’s Chief Medical Officer. Valentine’s Day Tribute to Dr. Varney Freeman, the Hospital’s Chief Medical Officer in 1978.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 1978 edition of the LAMCO News, published by LAMCO J. V. Operating Co.
One of the most complicated medical cases ever to confront experts at the Stephen A. Tolbert Memorial in Buchanan since its official dedication by President Tolbert in October 1975, was that of little Eva Jones, the 12-year old daughter of Mr. Henry Jones, an employee of the Ore Handling Section, Ore Processing Department.
The thoroughness in treatment and the extremely efficient medical precision which characterized Eva’s hospitalization is now being silently but generally acknowledged in medical circles as a rare achievement in Liberia’s medical history.
Circumstances surrounding Eva’s illness were of such a complex nature that even the most optimistic person in the face of odds, may have succumbed to naïve thoughts.
Available records on Eva reveal that the teenage girl was rushed to the Emergency Room by her parents on June 12 for what Dr. Freeman later described as an infection in the left frontal side of her brain, otherwise known as Meningo-encephalitis, an inflammation of the membrane that covers the brain, and subsequently involving the brain.
Dr. Freeman, who is one of the only two Liberian Physicians at the hospital, attributed the cause of the illness to an infection of the skull. He confirmed that this type of infection in the skill is an exceptionally rare case, adding that “it’s more common in the long bones: legs and arms, etc.” Eva was subsequently admitted and placed on close observation for three days.
When patient Eva was admitted, her complaints included weakness, swollen left upper eye lid and severe headache and vomiting, while she was also being plagued by high temperature, all of which necessitated severe blood, laboratory and x-ray investigations including lumbar puncture which enables the fluid sample (same as brain fluid) to determine whatever germs are responsible for the inflammation.
But as she began to develop further swelling on the left eye, coupled with continuing weakness on the right side of her body, she was unable to move her right leg; this new development provided Dr. Freeman with an accurate diagnosis of the situation and without further hesitation, he directed the immediate administration of three heavy doses of anti-biotics into the veins of the young patient.
On June 13, with a team of nurses and other medical assistants which included Mrs. Fatu Grisby, Mrs. Elizabeth Nilsson and Joseph Barbu, Dr. Freeman performed the successful operation on Eva, which saw the skull opened on the left side of her face. The outcome showed a marked improvement as she could now move her right leg to and from the bed, although the weakness still prevailed.
However, convinced that further exploration of the brain was still necessary to forestall the recurrence of the illness, Dr. Freeman made appropriate representation to LAMCO Management through the Chief Medical Officer of LAMCO, Dr. Varsay E. Sirleaf, for an Ivorian Neuro Surgeon brain surgeon) and a personal friend of his, Dr. Kouame Kanga, to be invited to Liberia to assist him in the exploration exercise. As soon as the green light was given by Management, the necessary contact was established and Dr. Kanga, the Ivorian brain surgeon arrived with the necessary equipment at his own cost on the first available flight from Abidjan.
Management later defrayed all expenses incurred by Dr. Kanga in connection with the mission.
Thereafter, Dr. Kanga, a lecturer in the Department of Neuro Surgery at the University of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, jointly studied Eva’s condition with Dr. Freeman and both of the physicians unanimously upheld the latter’s opinion that more room existed for further exploration of Eva’s brain from a surgical view point. Thus on June 17, the two doctors undertook a second operation on the patient which fortunately, brought about a tremendous improvement to Eva’s health condition.
Her temperature dropped after few days and other hitherto unmovable parts of her body became flexible, thus removing Eva from the danger list to that of hope with improved gaiet which encouraged hospital authorities to discharge Eva on July 3.
As a matter of fact, her physical and mental condition now perfect to the extent that Eva can move about at will. But for the mother, Mini Jones who now rejoices over her daughter’s rapid and almost unimaginable recovery, Eva’s sickness has a deeper root cause than just an ordinary ailment.
As Mini put it to Lamco News at her Tubman Street residence in Buchanan where relatives, friends and well-wishers still queue to welcome Eva home, her daughter’s illness “Preceded two rather fearful dreams she had earlier had in which Eva was attacked and severely wounded in the head at school by someone known to the family.” “They meant to kill my daughter” she sobbed as she was overtaken by emotions.
And for Mr. Jones, God alone could better reward the personnel of the Stephen A. Tolbert Memorial Hospital in general and Dr. Freeman and Dr. Kanga in particular for their good services to humanity.
All in all, Eva’s successful treatment at the Lamco Buchanan hospital highlights one important fact which may not be so recognized but should therefore be emphasized here. That Lamco Management is genuinely interested in the welfare of employees and their dependants whose medical needs warrant expert attention whether in Liberia or in foreign hospitals.
“If need be, any employee—both Liberian and expatriate alike—whose health deteriorates to the extent where further medical attention overseas becomes necessary would be attended to without hesitation. This has all along been the official policy of the company regarding medical care for employees,” Dr. Freeman explained.
Furthermore, Dr. Sirleaf is quoted as having been authorized by the General Manager, Mr. Hans Astrand to see to it that all such cases requiring specialized attention in foreign parts be immediately approved upon recommendation by the physician in charge, irrespective of the social status of the patient.
Another moving and perhaps most interesting aspect of the patient’s hospitalization is that for a case as complicated as Eva’s to be so judiciously handled in a local hospital by an all black corps of professionally trained medical and para-medical personnel, clearly underscores more than ever, the need for acquiring more sophisticated equipment necessary for carrying out such isolated medical cases as this will go a long way in minimizing the cost of obtaining Medicare for company personnel abroad.
Dr. Freeman remains convinced that with such assurance and backing from Management, the two Lamco hospitals in Buchanan and Nimba can handle at least some of the emergency cases.
Besides, it also stresses the need for further cooperation in medical and other fields by African governments through the exchange of professionals of the various nations within the continent and other joint efforts such as research programs, study tours, etc.
Fortunately enough, the West African College of Physicians founded in 1976 of which Liberia is a member, and which recently held a seminar on Cerebro Spinal Meningitis in Kano, Nigeria, with Dr. Sirleaf and other local physicians representing Liberia, should look more closely into the possibility of exchanging medical experts within the sub-region in the interest of promoting the health needs of the people of area.