TONY BEST: US family of Bajan docs
What binds families together?
Some pinpoint blood lines while others cite family traditions as the key elements. A third group would point to religious principles. Yet another would invoke patriotism and respect for each other to the equation.
When it comes to the Walkes family headed by the patriarch Dr Austin Cecil Walkes, a Barbadian who grew up in Black Rock in St Michael, attended Combermere School and is now a highly respected physician and administrator in Texas, you would have to bring the factors together and add a few more strands to the equation to answer the question accurately.
“We all have a passion for missionary work,” said Walkes, who directs the public health services of the Jefferson County Health Authority which serves a population of more than 250 000 people in southeast Texas.
“We are motivated by needs that are not being met, such as access to effective care that improves the quality of people’s lives.”
His daughter, Dr Desmar Walkes, who like her father is a family medical practitioner in Texas, agrees.
“I was raised in a Barbadian home outside of Barbados and I believe that people have basic needs that must be met whether they live in a society of wealth or in a poor community,” was the way she put it.
“We must give people hope. That’s the first thing and that’s why we have undertaken medical missions. As a family we would like to help in Barbados.”
Her brother, Dr Jon Cecil Walkes, a top-notch cardiothoracic surgeon in the San Francisco Bay area of California, shares that approach to care and to life.
“I grew up watching my father work hard and I always had an interest in science and in medicine. You have to be motivated by more than (financial) rewards,” explained Dr Walkes, who at different times has served as a clinical associate professor at the University of Texas Medical Centre in Houston and director of the Valve Programme at the Memorial Hermann Heart Institute. He has taught at the Methodist Hospital of the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in Houston.
“As a kid, I always wanted to be a physician.”
His sister’s initial ambition was somewhat different. The advocate for access to improved health care for the uninsured and who among other things is the director of a multi-specialty health clinic, initially wanted to be a missionary. But the needs of people were so great that after her medical training in Canada and Texas she plunged headlong into the provision of care, first in Washington DC and later in Texas.
Whether it was as the clinical director at homeless centre for women in the US capital, the head of a Texas laboratory for patients with sleep disorders or the preceptor for physician assistants and nurse practitioners studying at the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Pennsylvania, Dr Desmar Walkes has found time to pursue her passion for missionary work in Central America and Asia with her father.
“We treat patients with many of the non-communicable chronic diseases such as diabetes, strokes and so on, people from all walks of life,” she said.
And what’s the family’s assessment of Barbados’ health care system?
“Barbados needs a brand new hospital because the Queen Elizabeth Hospital right now is inadequate,” said Dr Cecil Walkes.
“There is more that can be done to improve access to care in our country. People there have to wait too long for care at public institutions.
“The professionals in charge of the institutions in Barbados have the knowledge but they lack the resources to deliver the care,” he said.