Doctor bids farewell to Trail

"You are reading this because you have played a positive role in the lives of children in this community."

You are reading this because you have played a positive role in the lives of children in this community. I want to thank you for allowing me be a part of that work.

When I arrived in 1993, there was no consistent pediatric service in the area. Over the past 20 years, the medical and Trail community shared and supported my work to bring quality services closer to children in this community. By most accounts, we appear to have succeeded.

Some things were accomplished by providing 24/7 call coverage in support of family physicians and taking services to smaller communities in the area. In order to forge a closer relationship with UBC, I invited subspecialists to provide services locally and provided training for Pediatric trainees. “Kootenay Friends for Children Foundation” was formed to support children/parents who had to seek medical help outside the area. She morphed into doing much more; providing scholarships, after school activities, and raising funds to build a new ward for children, among others.  A radio show and newspaper column provided an informal forum for parents to have their questions addressed. Aware of the limitations of access, I worked with nurses, technicians, ambulance, airport and weather personnel when children needed specialized care. All of us were especially vigilant around critically ill children. I am very proud to say that this collaboration has culminated in the absence of fatality in any child in our care in the last twenty-one years!

In 2005, my peers in the Canadian Pediatric Society acknowledged me with a National Award for “outstanding commitment to improving the health of children and youth in his community”.  Our efforts in Trail also made it possible for me to participate in work at both the national and international level.

In the last twelve months, three papers where reviewed for publication in “Pediatric and Child Health”, Canada’s top journal for pediatricians.  Abstracts were submitted to the European Association of Physician Health 2015 conference in Barcelona, Spain and to the Canadian Pediatric Society 2015 conference in Toronto. Manuscripts for two books: one, on impact of parenting on childhood epigenetic predispositions and the other on personal development are in advanced stages.  I interviewed medical students for one of Canada’s top medical schools.

In 2014, I co-authored publication of paper in the American Journal of Human Genetics about a local family whose child was critically ill at birth. She turned out to have a variation in the CA5A gene shared by three families worldwide. A few years ago, she presented at age 30 hours with respiratory distress and lethargy.  I made a diagnosis of inborn error of metabolism, but investigations in Vancouver and Seattle could not reveal the underlying cause.

Several years of extensive collaboration between (Trail/Vancouver) Canada, (St. Louis) USA, (Birmingham) UK and (Parkville/Melbourne) Australia has led to the discovery of new gene variations that explain this unusual presentation. The implication is that another family with this condition will never have to endure the anxiety of not knowing that our family in Trail had to endure.

Another local child presented with recurrent abdominal pains. Extensive investigations were unremarkable except for finding a spinal arachnoid cyst. A paper based on this finding has been published in collaborating with UBC in “Child’s Nervous System”; an international official journal of Pediatric Neurosurgery. Now, doctors know to think of spinal lesions as a possible cause of intractable abdominal pain.

The future holds many exciting challenges. In the 3rd week of April, I ran a workshop on quality medical care at the EAPH conference in Spain. There are other international commitments in May (Africa) and in June (England).  All these have made it necessary to modify my current practice. I hope to resume full clinical practice in summer, in circumstances that will support the current needs of my family.

As humbling and as satisfying as this work has been, it pales in comparison to the many kind letters from parents who trusted me with the care of their precious little ones. I have a mom’s permission to reproduce one letter:

“Today is a very special day … the day my son M.M. had heart surgery ten years ago!!!! And without your incredible judgment and giant heart he might not have made it … you are an amazing doctor and wonderful person and we all thank you!!!!”

My family and I have had a fulfilling time in Trail. It would not have been possible without your immense support. We thank you.

Dr. Henry UkpehTrail


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