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Dr Nadine Johnson - Maternal foetal medicine specialist

Published:Monday | May 3, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Dr Nadine Johnson - Ian Allen/Photographer
Dr Nadine Johnson - Ian Allen/Photographer
Dr Nadine Johnson - Ian Allen/Photographer

Nashauna Drummond, Lifestyle Coordinator

Dr Nadine Johnson has a penetrating gaze and a perpetually contemplative brow. Her stare and contemplation serve her well in her field of maternal foetal medicine (MFM). The only one in the island, Dr Johnson is specially trained to manage high-risk pregnancies - foetuses at risk of death or injury during pregnancy. A specialised area of obstetrics and gynaecology, her training deals with the diagnosis and management of birth defects through her advanced skills in obstetric ultrasound. She can detect abnormal heart beats, conduct diagnostic procedures such as amniocentesis and chrorionic villus sampling (sampling of the placenta) to do genetic testing (chromosomes), and therapeutic procedures on the foetus while it is still in the womb, such as blood transfusion if the foetus is anaemic.

Medical problems

"Many women have medical problems - seizures, heart disease, kidney disease, lung disease, blood-clotting problems or even cancer. Pregnancy can in some cases make their disease worse, even to the point that there is a risk of dying. I have been trained in how to monitor these women to increase their chances of a successful pregnancy and reduce their risks." However, for her, satisfaction comes "at the end of a difficult pregnancy when mother brings baby or babies for a visit and you are able to see a happy, successful end result." She also gets joy from the 'regular' patients she sees, especially the joy of revealing the baby's sex.

Family of doctors

Growing up in Montego Bay, St James, with doctors in the family (uncles), her parents had no doubt that she would follow suit. While boarding at Hampton High School in St Elizabeth, it was hinted and she just naturally took to that path. "If you took the sciences you became a doctor, if you did the arts you became a lawyer. I did the sciences," she noted in a recent interview with Flair.

For Johnson, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, offered the best of all areas of medicine. "It offers the best combination of all areas. I get to see patients with general medical problems, do surgery and do some radiology in the form of obstetric ultrasound."

Her interest in foetal medicine began during her residency. "I always had an interest in the speciality. During my residency training, one of my mentors, Dr Wendell Guthrie, arranged for me to spend one month each at John's Hopkins and Duke universities in the United States of America observing the speciality. There I became even more fascinated and realised these skills were lacking in Jamaica. I was determined to do fellowship training post-graduation, and applied to the University of Toronto. Their programme is one of the largest and most prestigious in North America/Canada. They manage approximately 3,000-4,000 complicated pregnancies yearly. I was the first Caribbean doctor to be trained there and to date the only one."

Time divided

Dr Johnson divides her time between her academic appointment and her clinical appointment. She teaches undergraduate medical students and sees patients.

She notes that both are complementary. Though she never saw herself in a teaching role, she thinks it's important to pass on knowledge: "it grows on me." She has also recently created the Foetal Diagnosis Therapy Unit with the department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University Hospital of the West Indies.

A member of Jamdammers Running Club of Kingston, she notes that running is a great way to de-stress. She also does yoga and pilates though she admits that sometimes her work goes home with her.

Very humble despite all her training and achievements, Johnson's goal is to help in some 'small' way to improve medical care offered to pregnant women in Jamaica and, hopefully, inspire young people to become MFM specialists.