AS a little girl she was nursing dolls, and today Dr Maolynne Miller's life is consumed with taking care of sick babies and addressing those issues that might prevent them from having a fighting chance at life.
One of those issues is kidney disease, which was not an area of focus before she became a paediatric nephrologist, as very few doctors then knew how to treat kidney problems in children. Dr Miller became the first paediatric nephrologist in Jamaica in 1984 and through her work at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) and the Kidney Kids Foundation, has helped to safeguard the lives of scores of children.
"When I was doing my internship, I did a rotation with a paediatric surgeon who had children in his care for kidney disease, but nobody in the island then knew what normal values for children's kidney function were to be, and there was absolutely nobody who knew how to manage kidney disease in children specifically," she said.
Dr Miller had always planned to be a doctor, but it wasn't until her internship that she decided on her area of specialisation.
"I always liked to look after my dollies and get them better, and when I became a teenager I fell in love with Dr Kildare on the TV, and then I've always wanted to do medicine. I have never thought of doing anything else my whole life, so after I left high school, I went into medicine," she said.
Dr Miller attended The Queen's School where she was a top achiever in the languages. As a result, she was often encouraged to go into this area like her father who was a linguist with the Jamaica High Commission in London. But she knew what she wanted and placed special emphasis on the sciences instead. After completing sixth form, she won the Jamaican Independence Scholarship and enrolled at the University of the West Indies to study medicine.
She pursued postgraduate training in paediatrics at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada between 1980 to 1984, and shortly after returning to Jamaica she joined the team at the UHWI as a paediatric nephrologist. She also lectured at the Department of Child Health at the University of the West Indies. In addition to her work at the university, Dr Miller also operates her own private practice at the Ruthven Medical Centre and started the Kidney Kids Foundation in 2012, which is a non-profit organisation to help children with kidney-related problems.
"It's a wonderful feeling when you help somebody get well or when you help make somebody get well, or if you have a patient who gets kidney failure and you are able -- as we are now -- to offer dialysis instead of telling them that they are going to die," she said.
There are currently only three paediatric nephrologists in the island, and one of Dr Miller's visions is to see the number grow so that there will be one nephrologist assigned to every major town in Jamaica to monitor and supervise children with kidney disease and if necessary, also do dialysis.
"Instead of having the children who have bad kidney disease and who need dialysis having to trek up to Kingston and be dialysed, then they can be treated in their own parish and that would make a tremendous difference," the doctor said.
The mother of four feels that children are by far the best patients to treat, and so she has never had any desire to practise any other area of medicine.
"I don't find that children pretend. Sometimes adults -- even when they are well -- because they want a few more days off, will say they are still feeling sick. The children will come in feeling very lethargic and ill-looking and you get them better, and the next thing they are running all over the place," she said.
Although a lot of her focus has been on children with kidney problems, she also tends to babies and children with other medical conditions. She is able to do so primarily through her private practice which she started in 1985.
"In my private practice I enjoy having families grow with me, so you start seeing the baby and so you might see the family for over 20 years and that child grows up and then they start bringing their babies. A lot of people may say that private practice is dull, but it's only dull if you don't involve yourself and don't make the patient real. If you just see the patient as someone to occupy a 15-minute slot, then you are going to be bored," she said.
The fact that she has to give her young patients her full attention didn't prevent her own children from getting any of her time while they were younger. Dr Miller said she tried to juggle her schedule as best as possible so she could always spend time with her family.
"I never missed any birthday parties or any of their major school events because I think that's very important. It's easy to forget your family when you are striving for what is the greater good but then ultimately your family is the core of your being and you can't neglect them," she said.