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A Tribute to Dr. Deborah Brathwaite

December 2013

CAMSA President Deborah Brathwaite, MD

The executive and members of BACA deeply regret the passing of our dear colleague Dr. Deborah Brathwaite and extend to her family our profound regrets.

Dr. Brathwaite was a staunch supporter of BACA and its efforts to fight cancer locally and in Barbados. She co-coordinated the annual cancer symposia conducted jointly by BACA and the Caribbean American Medical & Scientific Association (CAMSA) and was responsible for much of its success.

As a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician she worked arduously to restore physically disabled people to functional capacity and was a committed mentor to the trainees at her teaching institution.

She will be sorely missed and we at BACA will strive to uphold her legacy by supporting the programs about which she cared so much.

Remembering Dr. Deborah Brathwaite
Unlike primary care specialties such as internal medicine, family practice or pediatrics in which the physician often has the satisfaction of seeing patients respond quickly to treatments such as antibiotics, or the surgeon who can often use the scalpel to provide a fairly speedy permanent cure, those who practice physical and rehabilitation medicine work on a different time scale as they try to restore disabled patients to maximum function.  It may take weeks, months and even years to achieve gains ranging from minimal to full restoration of function.  Therefore it takes a special kind of person, a special kind of physician to address such needs - a physician with patience, kindness, commitment, compassion and dedication.  Such a physician was Dr. Deborah Brathwaite whose professional life at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center gave hope to the physically disabled, a mission she fulfilled with passion and professionalism providing a fitting model for those trainees she supervised.  What a wonderful legacy.

Another passion was her dedication to and advocacy for, the improvement of health care in the Caribbean immigrant population in New York City and underserved segments of the Caribbean basin, through education and clinical outreach.  In 2002, she was a founding member of the Caribbean American Medical & Scientific Association (CAMSA) and played a major role in conceptualizing its vision as an advocacy and service organization devoted to improving health care for the Caribbean people.

A former secretary of CAMSA, she served as its 2013 president until several weeks ago when she reluctantly took leave to focus on her health. Admirably, despite her personal medical issues, she was focused, professional and effective during her tenure.  She forged a strong working relationship with the New York Caribbean consular corps, streamlined CAMSA’s operations, enhanced its image, and made significant strides in membership recruitment.

She was also an ardent supporter of the Barbados Cancer Association USA (BACA), Inc., and was critical to the success of the annual BACA/CAMSA cancer symposium which was usually held at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center where she worked.

At membership meetings of CAMSA and BACA held soon after her passing, she was lauded for her quiet dignity, professionalism, hard work, commitment, modesty, dependability, grace and dedication.  Other quotes: “a special lady”, “she had the right words for me when I lost my brother”, “she showed us how to live (for others) and taught us how to die.”

Her intimates knew her to be a woman of faith and in sum, faith, family, medicine and the community were her missions. The family has lost a treasured daughter, granddaughter, mother, and sister; the local medical community has lost a highly valued clinician, teacher and mentor, and CAMSA, BACA and the medically underserved have lost a friend, colleague and advocate in the fight for health care justice and equity. And some would say, much too soon. But we cannot second guess the Almighty, and from what we have come to understand, neither did she.

It is now left to us to honor her memory by rededicating ourselves to support the worthy causes she espoused.

With profound regret,

O’Neall Parris, MD, MPH, FAAP
Chairman, BACA
Board Member of CAMSA