IMPACTFUL & EXTRAORDINARY
Dr. Cooke provides the roadmap to a neurosurgical career and lessons from adversity
Neurosurgery appeals to those individuals who are fascinated with the complexity of the human brain and who enjoy the challenge of correcting the defects of the nervous system. Neurosurgeons treat patients of all ages, from newborn babies to the elderly. Thankfully, we are on the cutting-edge of neurosurgery with technological innovations like robotic stereotactic assistance brain surgery, advanced medical imaging, and deep brain stimulation.
VBD Magazine is delighted to feature Dr. Dwaine Cooke, a Consultant Neurosurgeon. He shares the inspiration behind his career choice, details about a groundbreaking surgery he performed, and how he thrives during challenging times.
“At different points in my life, I had entertained doing Art, Architecture, or Accounting,” Dr. Cooke admits. “In medical school, a few of my professors encouraged me to pursue internal medicine as they thought that I had good clinical examination skills, patience, and knowledge that were crucial to that specialty. But I always knew I had the hands of a surgeon.”
Obedient to his calling, Dr. Cooke is a testament to the resilience of the medical community. His charisma, thoughtfulness, brilliance, and excellence are great reminders to crush challenges and chase your dream. You will be encouraged to press through the trials in your life and not allow them to keep you stuck. Dive into our interview!
EDUCATIONAL AND PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND
Dr. Cooke was born in Westmoreland, Jamaica. After graduating from the Manning’s School, he attended the University of the West Indies, Mona, where he completed his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree in 2005 and Doctor of Medicine in Neurosurgery in 2016, with multiple distinctions and honors. He has obtained fellowship training in pediatric and adult neuro-oncology, neurovascular disorders, and epilepsy surgery at Halifax Health Sciences in Nova Scotia, Canada. In addition, he has completed an Epilepsy Surgery fellowship training at Yale University, Connecticut, USA.
A CAREER IN MEDICINE
At a young age, Dr. Cooke knew he wanted to practice medicine. “Both my mother and father had medical issues that required frequent visits to the hospital or to the doctor’s office,” Dr. Cooke reveals. “This helped me to develop a caring attitude from a young age. Also, I was curious about how the body works, so I read any material I could get my hands on to fulfill this curiosity. My mom had a book called A Medical Guide for the Home, which piqued my interest when I was around seven years old. I started looking at the pictures in the book, but eventually started reading about medical conditions with keen interest.
Interestingly, in high school I participated in the renowned Schools’ Challenge Quiz Match, and when it was my turn to introduce myself, I told them that I will become a Neurosurgeon, as if predicting the future.
The brain and neurological systems are so complex, that we continue to discover information about them. It provides that challenge that pushes me to want to know more. I chose a surgical specialty mostly because I can see a problem that I could technically fix.”
Neurosurgery is a demanding field and as expected, Dr. Cooke has performed thousands of surgeries during his surgical training and professional years. “I enjoy doing all neurosurgeries. Working on the brain and spinal cord can be a nerve-wracking experience, so I perform surgeries with caution, patience, skill, and temperance.”
Dr. Cooke treats multiple diseases affecting the brain and spine including tumors, head injuries, seizures, intracranial bleeding, back pain, and nerve pain. He specializes in epilepsy surgery, which seeks to surgically remove tumors and other causes of seizures that are unresponsive to regular treatment.
Depending on where he practices, he performs certain surgeries more often than others. “From my experience in Jamaica, trauma to the head contributes significantly to our surgical numbers. But I also perform surgeries for brain and spine tumors, bleeds, and degenerative diseases of the spine, such as a slipped disc.”
Dr. Cooke also does neurosurgical consultation with other physicians and offers emergency services for head injuries, bleeding in the brain, injuries to the spine, aneurysm ruptures, spinal disc herniations, seizures, strokes with brain swelling, hydrocephalus, severe sudden headaches, and brain and spine infections, among others.
WORKING HIS CALLING
In June 2020, Dr. Cooke led the medical team that successfully performed a groundbreaking brain surgery on Marjorie Pearson at the Kingston Public Hospital. “It was great to be a part of that team. This experience opened our eyes to see that we have the mindset and skill to perform difficult tasks if we work as a team.”
Traditionally, patients are offered all the different treatment options available for a certain problem. In Marjorie’s case, a tumor was sitting on the brain over the area that controls speech. Leaving it alone was not an option because it was causing her speech to be intermittently affected as the tumor was irritating her brain.
While removing the tumor was clearly the solution, the surgery could have caused a complete loss of her ability to speak. “We could have done the procedure while Marjorie was asleep using a local anesthetic and then waking her up at the end of the surgery and checking her speech. However, this would have been too risky as it would have been too late. We decided to do the surgery with Marjorie fully awake, allowing us to communicate with her throughout the procedure and administer tests that reassured us that everything was going well.
We prepared for this surgery by having team meetings to discuss how the procedure would be performed and all the medications and equipment that would be required. We had several sessions with the patient to explain what is required and to keep her level of motivation high. The success of the procedure brought joy to many as Marjorie’s speech was successfully preserved and her ability to sing maintained.”
“Growing up as the only boy in my household in the district of Lennox Bigwoods, Jamaica, meant that I had responsibilities for raising goats, feeding chickens, and fetching water from the community pond or tank. After that, I had to walk 3 miles to school and back.
Being the only male child in my family, it was normal to find a skill from a very young age, and probably not finish school. I’m thankful for a supportive family who insisted that I completed high school and get into a college.
My mother and I used to attend the town’s market twice weekly to peddle our wares and sometimes, I missed school. When I started Manning’s School, a high school, my mom decided to relieve me of that responsibility.
Every step of the way, the Lord opened doors to resolve my difficulties. Attending university was not something I could afford, but I kept working hard and was rewarded with the Government Exhibition Scholarship to pursue my studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI).
I’m grateful that my hard work at the UWI did not go unnoticed. There, I was granted the Jamaica Flour Mills Scholarship and the Linda and Harvey Gellman Award. The latter I received after going to Canada as the UWI representative. I have been fortunate to train and work with many amazing people including neurosurgeons, both locally and internationally (Canada, USA, UK, Caribbean, and Italy).
Today, I’m all about building others. I try to impart knowledge to whomever I can, whenever the opportunity presents itself. While there are resource limitations in Jamaica, I do the best I can with what is available. My goal is to see an Epilepsy Surgery program established in the Caribbean and neurosurgery evolve to a first world standard.”
ADVICE TO ASPIRING NEUROSURGEONS
“Most neurosurgeons can probably identify what initially attracted them to their specialty, so know and understand your ‘why.’ As with any medical profession, compassion and responsiveness are necessary since you will be interacting with people who are worried about their health. A strong work ethic is important in all medical specialties and neurosurgery is no exception. You will need to be proficient in problem-solving skills and have great amounts of patience and physical strength.
The field of neurosurgery demands extensive education and training. All in all, it can take over 14 years to become a neurosurgeon, which includes completing the educational requirements, residencies, and fellowships. However, it is rewarding as you help patients recover from devastating neurological diseases. Also, it is worth the investment in terms of knowledge acquired and remuneration.
During the period of acquiring your education and training is when most of your friends are excelling in their family lives. It can be discouraging at times because of the personal sacrifices in terms of relationships and hobbies. Nevertheless, keep working hard, hold your head high, and keep your eye on the prize as it will be worth it in the end.”
BALANCING CAREER WITH OTHER COMMITMENTS
“Having spent so many years studying, I thought that ‘life’ would start after completing my education and training, but it’s quite the contrary, I'm always on the go. However, I’m blessed to enjoy what I do so it doesn’t become a burden. I take time for my family, and we plan our travel adventures.”
ADJUSTING TO THE NEW NORMAL
We are all adjusting to the new normal caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Dr. Cooke is no stranger to this. As a physician, he is always mindful of infectious organisms that exist in the surroundings.
“We have utilized measures to protect ourselves and even more importantly our patients. Hand hygiene, wearing of personal protective equipment such as a face mask, vaccination, and isolation of infectious personnel, are all principles that existed to minimize spread. It was no surprise that these were instituted in some form or the other in the general population to help reduce the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I continue to practice these necessary principles, as the fight extends from beyond the hospital to my household and other social environments. I conduct my daily activities with extreme caution, knowing that my health will directly affect my family and patients.”
ON THE HORIZON
“The sky is the limit for me. I will continue to keep a level head and seek out ways to improve myself and my work, while ensuring that the future is better by passing on my knowledge to the next generation. I desire to see brain and spine surgeries be more easily accessible to all, no matter their class status or background, so I’m working towards that goal.”
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Ann Marie Bryan
Editor-in-Chief, VBD Magazine