Dr. Ellianne dos Santos Rubio
The only Neurosurgeon on the island. She has been working as a neurosurgeon for the past two and a half years following a 6-year specialization. As a neurosurgeon she performs surgeries of:
- The Spine
- Spinal Cord
- The Brain
She was kind enough to take some time to tell us a little bit about herself and her profession.
Dr. dos Santos Rubio became fascinated by the brain while earning her doctor’s degree. To her, the brain is a magnificent and complex organ; it actually determines who we are. She liked Neurology as a specialty but was more intrigued by what neurosurgeons do. She didn’t truly know what it entailed in detail as she doesn’t come from a family of doctors. She decided to do some research in the USA. She got in contact with different neurosurgeons and saw her first live brain surgery while there. “That was a “wow” moment and the deciding factor. I knew that’s what I wanted to do!”, Dr. dos Santos Rubio exclaims. She decided to do an internship in Rotterdam as part of her medical degree and never looked back.
What I do is just the beginning!
What inspires her most about her work are her patients and their families. She explains that as crucially important as neurosurgery might be, it is not exactly a profession that radiates positivism. There are certain diseases in Neurology/Neurosurgery for which there is no cure, for example, permanent spinal cord injury or malignant brain tumors. But when she sees the dedication in her patients, how they work so hard to try and improve their disability or try to make the best of their remaining life with such dignity, she finds this extremely impressive and courageous.
“I applaud them every day. What I do is just the beginning of their journey with a neurosurgical illness. What they do after that is what really matters. That is the true story and that is inspiring!”, the doctor says with feeling.
When Dr. dos Santos Rubio first came to Curacao, it hadn’t rained for two years, so the Island was as dry as a bone. “I must admit it was not a very welcoming sight, but the people, the nurses and other staff members at the hospital were extremely welcoming and that made me want to take this leap of faith.”, she says warmly. She knew that Neurosurgery was a specialization that was extremely necessary on the island; it had been non-existent for the past year. She wanted to try and make a difference in the lives of people and that is what she set out to do. With time, she also learned to appreciate the beauty of Curaçao. “This island has a lot of hidden gems, it’s a great treasure!”, Dr. dos Santos Rubio says with a smile.
According to Dr. dos Santos Rubio, most acute spinal cord injuries occur during accidents. During the time she did her specialization at a trauma center in Rotterdam (Erasmus Medical Center), Neurosurgery was always a part of the trauma-team. This was extremely crucial, because of the timeframe we needed to work in. With partial spinal cord injury, time is of the essence. The faster you act, the better the outcome. “As I said earlier, we can’t cure everything as neurosurgeons, but we can try and save what is salvable,” Dr. Dos Santos Rubio further explains.
Treatment of a patient with a spinal cord injury is a multidisciplinary one. It extends from the moment the patient is attended by the ambulance crew, until the moment the patient is back home, following a long period of rehabilitation. Neurosurgeons are mostly only called in at the start of this trajectory. The rest of the care needs to be provided by rehabilitation physicians, physical therapist, occupational therapists, psychologists, support groups etc. A lot of research is being done in spinal cord injury with regards to rehabilitation and treatment.
The importance of exercise
Dr. dos Santos Rubio also stressed the importance of exercise. It’s a known fact that exercise forms part of living a healthy lifestyle. This holds true for everyone, but it’s especially important for those with a physical disability or a neurological disorder to exercise regularly. The doctor further explained that exercise keeps you healthy, alert and focused. People with a physical disability need to exercise as much as possible; their body consumes a lot of calories trying to maintain its physical strength. Trying to keep muscles and bones active is one of the key elements on the road to recovery. Exercise is not only crucial for retaining the body strength that has been gained with the initial training…it is imperative! That is why Dr. dos Santos Rubio believes it is important to maintain the Alton Paas training center at Colon. “The center is a place where people not only work on fortifying their muscles and bodies, but also a place where they can share their stories and experiences about the different treatments they have tried, or just talk about everyday stuff and simply socialize with one another.”, she states.
Complex cases in Curacao
The types of cases Dr. dos Santos Rubio has encountered in Curacao differ from other countries where she has worked. “We believe that the cases we see here are more complex. Why, you might ask? Well, I’m not sure, there could be a genetic component, but also a public’s lack of awareness concerning physical health, treatment options and people being afraid of undergoing the surgical treatment they require. I see many patients at my practice that arrive in a bad neurological state:
- have been lying in bed for 2-3 months without being able to move arms and/or legs after a fall
- or they come in with a walker
- or in a wheelchair
asking me to help them walk again.
Unfortunately, damage to the spinal cord can’t be removed during an operation after so much time has elapsed. Immediate treatment in the form of surgery is the best option. In these cases, the chances of ending up in a wheelchair without surgery, is far greater than with surgery,” she concludes.
According to Dr. dos Santos Rubio, awareness of diseases and disabilities needs to be the number one priority. “We as physicians need to start educating the public in the hopes that they will understand what is best for them and recognize warning signs for specific diseases. People need to take care of their health and take charge of their own fate. As a physician, I’m only here to give correct information on the different treatment options as objectively as possible. Ultimately, the patient has the final say in the course of action he or she wants to take.”
The Hope for Curacao
Dr. dos Santos Rubio’s hope for the island is that more awareness and education can be given to people, and that this will eventually lead to prevention of certain diseases/disabilities. And that in the unpreventable cases, she will able to give people the care they deserve with a team of experts that patients can trust and rely on without needing to be referred to other countries for treatment or rehabilitation facilities. She hopes that Curaçao will one day become a self-supporting island when it comes to neurosurgical, neurological and rehabilitation care, not only in spinal cord injuries, but also in brain diseases. “We need to get to a point where care is efficiently organized, and the patient is the most prominent element of this care. This is after all why I wanted to become a doctor in the first place; to take care of the patient!”, Dr. dos Santos Rubio states passionately. She furthermore hopes that research in specific areas of neurosurgery and neurology will continue to be conducted to better understand and maybe treat or prevent certain diseases and thus make the community healthier.