Although he never attended Calabar High School, Dr Donald Phillibert Jr still wishes that he had.
He, the son of accomplished New York City-based obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Don Phillibert Sr, OD, did not get the chance to step through the gate of the all-boys institution located on Red Hills Road in St Andrew, aside from dropping off gifts for some students when visits to the land of his birth would lead him into that direction.
The younger Phillibert, a member of the Jamaica Awareness Association of California, Inc, was, of course, born at Andrews Memorial Hospital “many years ago”, and remained in the Corporate Area until age seven, before he landed in Brooklyn, New York.
Jamaica was never far from him, as while he attended high school, he would often return at summertime, with a brother and sister, to stay with his grandmother, and other relatives like aunt Nina Triff Chin in Kingston, giving a little breather to his parents who struggled to make it in hectic New York in those days.
“It was difficult to be away from your parents, but I had my family in Kingston — cousins, aunts, uncles and there was a time in Jamaica in Kingston where your neighbours were your family. If you misbehaved or went too far, you were disciplined by your neighbours, but it was a sense of love, family and unity. We were one people,” said Dr Phillibert Jr, midway a surgical procedure that he and two other local surgeons based in the United States were conducting on a Jamaican patient at Annotto Bay Hospital last Tuesday.
“My father inspired me to go into medicine. As long as I can remember, even as a little skinny boy, I had to carry my weighty medical equipment back down to Jamaica. While we had opportunities abroad for education and for work, we always had to come and give back, and that’s how Calabar came in.
“He made me feel that I should have gone to Calabar. Even coming down, you would see me in Calabar clothes. It is something that has always been in my head from I was little. I used to walk the grounds of Calabar as a little boy. You see, that old boy passion is wonderful, but it never stops us doing things together for Jamaica — whether it be a Calabar boy, or KC boy, we all get together frequently because we want to do good work for Jamaica.
Dr Phillibert Sr is a legend at Calabar. The recently retired owns the reputation of being, possibly, the institution’s largest single benefactor, and though not as sprightly as in former years, he remains an active alumni.
In October 2017, the Government of Jamaica conferred him with the Order of Distinction (Officer Class) for philanthropy.
As for the medical team that was given permission by the Government to conduct a four-day training exercise for medical staff, and lead surgical procedures using laparoscopic methods at Annotto Bay last week, Dr Phillibert Jr hailed the mission as a huge success, and is looking forward to the next visit, perhaps by as early as later this year.
“I want to give a nod to Dr George Savage and Dr Ray Wedderburn as well. Savage is a boy who grew up near Tivoli Gardens and he saw a lot of things to inspire him to want to give back and start scholarships for children through JAAC educational scholarships. In addition he is one of our excellent gynaecological surgeons that’s here teaching cases as well.
“We are under the leadership of Dr Wedderburn, who has given exceptional financial contributions to the scholarships of bright and gifted children in Jamaica and is leading our surgical mission. We are very proud to have him at the helm,” Dr Phillibert Jr said.
The young gynaceologist, who began practising medicine in 2007, worked as part of Jamaican medical missions for almost five years before joining JAAC in 2016.
“Before JAAC and working with other missions, I assisted patients who needed to have help with pre-cancerous legions on their cervix. One time I needed an operating room in order to help these patients. We had their pap smear results analysed at University of Maryland and we saw that these women were in danger of having cervical cancer, or cancer of the uterus. We didn’t want them to suffer, but we needed an operating room. We heard about what was being done at Annotto Bay, and that’s how I started my relationship with Dr (Ray) Fraser (head of surgery at Annotto Bay) and that KC-Calabar relationship with my father was there.
“Dr Fraser asked if I would come and help teach with an organisation called JAAC and until this day I am grateful to Dr Fraser for that invitation. He introduced me to the world of teaching in global health,” Dr Phillibert Jr said.