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St. Maarten's first cardiologist Emiko Bird-Lake

St. Maarten's first cardiologist Emiko Bird-Lake

When Emiko-Bird Lake visited the a doctor’s office at age 13 for an appointment and noticed that none of the names on the doors were of locals, she knew from then that she wanted to become a doctor.

“This made such an impact on me and despite the fact that I had never been in a hospital or took care of any sick person I had a strong conviction that I was going to become a doctor,” The 43-year-old Bird-Lake told WEEKEnder in an article published August 1st, 2015.
She remained true to her dream and eventually became the first St. Maarten-born cardiologist to work in the country. Bird-Lake practises in the Netherlands where she resides and recently became one of the rotating cardiologists to work at St. Maarten Medical Centre (SMMC). The married, mother of one spoke to WEEKEnder about her life, her work and about coming back home to her native St. Maarten to work. 
Who is Emiko Bird Lake?
“I am the daughter of Veronica Lake and Matumi Shigemoto, born here in St. Maarten. I am my mother's third child and have two older brothers and a younger sister. I have lived here in St. Maarten until the age of three. I lived in Suriname from age three to ten-years-old and did most of my elementary school there. At the age of ten I returned to St. Maarten and finished off elementary school. I attended Milton Peters College and completed HAVO. Just before I turned 17, I left to go to Tampa Florida. There I attended the University of South Florida where I got a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Chemistry and Pre-Medicine. I was unable to complete medical school in the United States due to a change of policy by government. In 1993, I left St. Maarten to go to the Netherlands. Fortunately I was able to attend the medical school at the Universiteit van Leiden. In 2000 I completed my studies and was officially a medical doctor.  During five years I worked in several hospitals to gain experience and in 2005 I started my specialisation for cardiology at the Vrije Universiteit Medisch Centrum in Amsterdam and completed it on the 1st of July 2010. I have been practicing as a cardiologist for five years in the Netherlands and have sub-specialised in non-invasive imaging. In the meantime I became a mother and a wife and have been living in the Netherlands with my family.”
How would you describe yourself?
“As a very grateful and thankful child of God. I lean on God to carry me, support me and guide me and give me wisdom throughout my entire life. I have been very focused and determined to accomplish my goal. I was fortunate enough to know exactly what I wanted to become as a young teenager. I have a role model which is my mother, who has worked hard her entire life and has raised us as a single mother. Despite the struggles of a single mother, she has encouraged and supported me and my siblings throughout our studies and she still is a strong support to us all up until today. This has given me the motivation to be independent and confident, knowing that whatever I wanted to accomplish, I was going to accomplish it once I set my mind to it and believe in myself.”
Fondest memory growing up in St. Maarten?
“The moment when I returned home to St. Maarten to be with my mother and my siblings and the rest of my family after living for seven years in Suriname. After school sitting around with my brothers and our neighbours and playing card games together, laughing and just joking around. Going to the beach, picnicking and just having a good time.”
Why cardiology as opposed to another specialization?
“Cardiology is a specialisation that is very broad and diverse. Every invasive or non-invasive analysis or treatment is done by the cardiologist. Only surgical procedures that need to be done are done by cardiothoracic surgeons. Within this field you are not much dependant on another specialist.”
Employment history?
I worked at Westeinde Ziekenhuis; Zaans Medisch Centrum; St Francisus Ziekenhuis Breda and from January 2013 until now I am at Maastadziekenhuis en Spijkenisse Medisch Centrum.”
What differentiates you from other cardiologists?
“It is important to me that I can have a bond with my patients and learn to really listen to what they have to say and their complaints. It is utmost important to me that my patients understand their diagnosis, understand why I prescribe certain medication and what effect it has on their heart. I see my patient as a whole being and not just someone with an ailment or disease.”
Best aspects of being in this field?
“The diversity and the acuteness. It is either running or standing still.”
How does it feel being the first St. Maarten born cardiologist to operate at SMMC?
“It is definitely an honour to be the first St. Maarten born cardiologist and many patients are very happy to meet me. But it is more an honour to be able to make a difference and an impact in their lives by giving them the most optimal medical treatment that I can give and changing their mindset.”
What inspired you to remain abroad after your studies and not immediately return home to serve?
“My sub-specialisation and my family.”
How did your stint as a rotating cardiologist at SMMC come about?
“This came about through Dr. Meredith Sedney and my own desire to experience working here on the island.”
When did your start and when does it end? And how often can patients see you at SMMC?
“I am working there since July 6, and my last day will be August 4, 2015. I will rotate again in the near future.”
Any plans to return home full time in the future? If so when?
“No immediate plans right now, but I am definitely taking it into consideration. I will definitely be back rotating with my other colleagues.”
About how many patients do you estimate you have seen in St. Maarten since your stint began?
“I have seen about 12-15 patients on a daily basis.”
What is it about being cardiologist that you like?
“Being a medical professional gives you the opportunity to help patients in whatever way possible. Together with the patient you make decisions that affect their entire life. I put the emphasis on together with the patient, because it is my task to inform the patient to the best of my ability with the knowledge that I have and we then make a compromise about the treatment. If the patient does not understand what is wrong, the patient might not be compliant or afraid to undergo any further analysis. People are very afraid when it comes to their heart. So first of all you have to take away the fear, simply by explaining and talking to the patients in a language that they are able to understand. With the right treatment you can make them better and try to prevent a new incidence or relapse from happening.”
Based on your experience what are the most common cardiology problems here?
“Heart failure due to untreated hypertension and diabetes and coronary artery disease.”
How do you think the field of cardiology can be improved in St. Maarten?
“By bringing more awareness of the cardiac diseases to the general practitioners and the general population.”
What’s the funniest/scariest thing that has happened to you in your line of work?
“All life threatening situations are still a challenge. Not being able to do anything for a patient who is dying is still the hardest moments in your daily practice. I enjoy the moments when I am able to pray for my patients after they have given me the permission to do so.”
What else are you involved in other than being a cardiologist?
“I am the praise and worship leader in my church in the Netherlands. I enjoy worshiping. I am also part of a young foundation called Qualichi Faces. We are a group of St. Maarten women who reach out to St. Maarten students and elderly that live in the Netherlands. We organise events which are mostly free of charge for them to attend. We try to visit patients who have come to the Netherlands for therapy as well.”
Future goals?
“My future goal is to have my own practice and being able to incorporate my faith with my practice.”
Pet peeve?
Biggest fear?
“Not able to help those who really need it.”
Advice to youngsters who want to follow in your footsteps?
“The journey is long and the mountain may seem high, but once you can see yourself at the top of the mountain, the journey will be worth while. Seek those around you who support you fully and have a positive influence in your life. Don't let anyone put you down and take away your self confidence. Believe in yourself and now your limits. Set your priorities straight and most of all, enjoy and be passionate about what you are doing. Know that you are God’s creation, wonderfully made and he has equipped you with everything that you need. Never give up no matter what, be prepared, at a moment when it is least expected the doors will open for you.”

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