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The man with the big heart

Trini doctor making waves in Britain
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Dr Michael Singh

Rosemarie Sant

Trinidad-born Dr Michael Singh has been nominated for the Good Morning Britain Health Star Award. Singh was born in Freeport, on Independence Day 1972. 

He graduated from the University of the West Indies in 1997 and went on to train in Paediatric Surgery in Manchester and Liverpool. Singh is now a consultant paediatric surgeon at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital where he specialises in Paediatric Thoracic and Upper Gastrointestinal Surgery and has earned the title “MR.”

The son of the soil shot to international fame recently when Dr Hilary Jones, one of his peers and a relative of one of his patients nominated him for the award. The award is for anyone who has gone above and beyond what is expected of them in the field of health. Dr Jones believes Dr Singh is an inspiration to him and to all of us. The award ceremony takes place on April 14 at the Hilton Park Lane in London. 

Jones met Singh in March 2013 at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital when his granddaughter 18-month-old Bella, who was diagnosed with pneumonia and an abscess in the right lung, was flown to the Birmingham Children’s Hospital for emergency surgery.

Singh was highly recommended as “the right man to do the job.”  He spent roughly 19 hours in surgery on the day in question. 

Today, at age four, Bella with the help of her parents and grandfather put together a video which Dr Jones presented to Dr Singh. In it, Bella is seen playing doctor with her dolls, checking their heartbeat and temperature. Her grandfather said she loved to play doctors and nurses with her dolls.  Dr Jones said this month marked the three-year anniversary since the surgery was done and Bella had a message for Singh, telling him: “Thank you, Dr Singh, for making me better.”

Bella’s mother wrote a message to Singh telling him: “I know to you it’s just your job, but to us and your other patients it’s our whole lives. We will never forget how lucky we were to have a brilliant surgeon to give us back a healthy child when we were so desperate.”

Thanking Dr Singh for his work, Dr Jones said: “You remember those events three years ago, and it’s my family’s privilege to come back here and say a proper thank you. You saved her life that day. You were operating from seven in the morning until after midnight, non-stop. It was a fraught time for everybody and you wouldn’t know that she’d been so, so poorly. We’re very privileged and you do such a great job every day of the year. You are an inspiration to me and to all of us…” 

Singh said he was surprised when Dr Jones told him he had been nominated for the award. “It was a surprise to me as I was expecting to be interviewed about the child’s condition. I am happy to have been nominated.”

Speaking to us at her Freeport, home Singh’s mother, Mahadai, recalled she was at her son’s London home at the time he performed the surgery on Bella. She said when he came home after midnight he was exhausted, “he could not talk, his hands were so sore he could hardly open it, we had to massage his hands with some muscle relaxant and give him pain killers.”

She said her son explained to them the next day that the child had come to him from another hospital and the procedure had been “very intense.”

About the life-saving surgery

Singh said “some patients with an air leak from the lung following infection require major surgery to control the infection and plug the leak using a flap of muscle.” He said the technique was “pioneered at Birmingham Children’s Hospital,” which he said receives “many patients with this complication requiring this procedure.”

Singh performs more than 300 operations a year, many of which are planned. “However, when on call for emergencies the surgery may be life-saving,” he said. Singh explained that the most-challenging group is the newborn with major birth abnormalities.”

Scores of mothers have sent posts to the Birmingham Children’s Hospital Facebook page, praising him for his life-saving work. Among them, Debbie Cousins said “Mr Singh first operated on my daughter at just seven days old. A truly amazing man and we can’t thank him enough for saving our precious daughter’s life. Forever in Mr Singh’s debt and so pleased he has received some recognition.”

Bernie McCorley said: “Mr Singh operated on my daughter Emily and saved her life when she was just eight weeks old, such a wonderful man.”

Singh is only satisfied that a procedure has been successful “when the patient is discharged from hospital.” He said some of the patients have ongoing issues which require long-term follow-up. 

“I have a cohort of patients whom I have known from birth and are now running around and chatting with me in clinic!”

Singh is a member of the Better Lives Foundation, a UK-based charity group, which runs a primary health care clinic and surgical day case centre called the Yonibana Sai Hospital in rural Sierra Leone. They treat patients with malaria, malnutrition, and other tropical diseases. 

They also perform inguinal hernia and cataract surgery. He said “all care is provided free of charge to the patients.” In addition, he said, they also have a robust health education programme running in surrounding schools.

Since the Ebola outbreak the team has been unable to go to Sierra Leone, but he said they have been providing aid to Ebola affected families through their team of volunteers in Sierra Leone.

No plans to return to T&T
Although he comes for vacation, Singh has no plans to return to Trinidad to practice. He said “there are many well-trained and competent paediatric surgeons in T&T, they are already doing a fantastic job.”

His initial inspiration he said came from Dr David Josa, Prof Vijay Narynsingh and Prof Paul Teelucksingh, but explained that his inspiration changes as his development needs evolve. Singh said he has been “fortunate to have been mentored by many great paediatric surgeons” during his training and as a consultant.

He describes his senior colleague Mr Dakshesh Parikh as his “guru in Paediatric Thoracic (chest) Surgery, he is a world leader in this speciality.” 

Singh’s sister Sandra recalls that growing up “Mike” wanted to be a cowboy. She and their father, Jagmohan Singh, laughed as they recalled when he was young: “Mike would put a rope in the car to catch a horse when we were going to Princes Town.” 

Jagmohan said he used to tell me “dad, all I want is a horse, a rope, a frying pan and two eggs.” Today, Singh lives near a horse farm in England and often gets the chance to feed the horses apples and carrots.

While he is “happy” with the accolades he’s getting, Singh said his greatest success was the birth of his now four-month-old daughter, Vaisnavi. He acknowledged that his wife, Anushka, does “all the hard work,” but his daughter is his pride and joy and he looks forward to raising her.