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Dr. Susan King-Seary

Dr. Susan King-Seary

There was peace in the room as Susan spent her last few minutes on earth. Somehow her family, now surrounding her, knew that her journey here was soon complete. 

This journey started in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1954. Susan was the second child of Owen and Anne King. She grew up in St Lucia and attended the Ave Maria school and then St Joseph’s Convent. It was clear from an early stage that she was brilliant. She sat the entrance exam for Oxford University at age fifteen and was accepted. Most would not do this exam until eighteen years old. After winning a St Lucia Island Scholarship she went off to Oxford. After completing a degree in Chemistry she then went on to do Medicine at Mc Gill University in Canada, then on to The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto where she specialised in Paediatric and Infectious disease later to become Professor. In 2004, Susan won the Claus Wirsig Humanitarian Award, which is given to an individual who has consistently communicated the values of compassion and humanitarianism to others through a teaching role.

She settled in Toronto where she married a Canadian anaesthesiologist, Dr Richard Seary, and had three daughters, Judith, Elizabeth and Alison, who are now at or past university level. Like so many West Indians living abroad Susan never left St Lucia behind and would visit frequently and was always in constant contact with her family who all settled in St Lucia. I remember chatting to her on one of her visits when she told me that despite being in Canada for such a long time she had not yet applied for a Canadian passport.

Her brilliance aside Susan had clearly adopted a serious work ethic and was very absorbed in her work. She developed an interest in the management of children with HIV disease. As we all know this is a particularly challenging area of medicine as one is dealing not only with the patient but the family and the society. Susan was very much involved with the advocacy for these little patients as well as the research involved in discovering better methods of care. Still, she was a clinician and would also manage these patients with their families.

To compliment her busy work schedule Susan would also lead an active life with her family, spending a lot of time outdoors hiking, skiing, sailing, camping etc. In her late forties she picked up running and competed in three marathons. She really concentrated on this when she did a stint with the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) on a Fulbright scholarship as she was then in Atlanta , freed from her day to day family responsibilities.

In 2002 she started to develop weakness in her hands and as it progressed it was apparent that she had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka: ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This disease results in a slow, progressive weakening of the body’s muscles but it does not affect one’s intellect. Of course Susan being Susan she continued to work but slowly she had to give over to the disease. Fortunately there is an Assistive Technology Clinic and an ALS society in Canada which was able to help supply various types of mobility and communication technology. Her husband Richard being extremely good with gadgets was able to keep her communicating despite increasing disability.

When it appeared that it would be easier to look after Susan in St Lucia her husband took leave of absence from work and the two set up home in St Lucia. Before she returned to St Lucia The Hospital for Sick Children held a tribute dinner “to honour one of Canada’s most inspiring medical doctors”. In St Lucia she had a number of caregivers all of whom did a fabulous job of looking after her. Many of them were only trained to health aide level but I will never forget when I had to place a feeding tube for Sue in the hospital and the nurses were having difficulty helping her on to the operating table and communicating with her. One of the senior nurses asked that the aide do it and let the nurses step back because “She knows what she is doing, don’t interfere”.

I believe Susan took it all in stride and the rest of us had to keep up. She would appreciate and enjoy whatever she was able to at the time. She did not dwell on what she could not do. She spent a lot of time reading on the porch and enjoyed being taken for walks while in her wheel chair. Even when she could no longer swallow she would appreciate smelling things she had loved to eat, like guava.

While in St Lucia she received pastoral visits from Archdeacon Randolph Evelyn. At one visit he asked if she wished him to pray for a miracle healing. To his surprise she said no. She only wanted him to pray for strength. She felt that her condition was God’s will and she would accept this and move on. The priest admitted that he felt he had gained more from Susan than she had from his ministering. There were often complications mainly chest infections and her husband assisted by Susan’s doctor and her carers worked hard to overcome them and keep her as well as possible. They were all encouraged by Susan’s ability to rise above each challenge even if she did not conquer them all. Inevitably the time came when there was nothing she or anyone else could do. Even in the end there was one muscle function she never lost; the ability to smile.

Written by Charles Greenidge, brother –in-law

Source: The Voice

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