One year later: Guyana’s 1st partial skull transplant patient adjusting to life very well

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By Lakhram Bhagirat

Just over a year ago, Guyana broke new neurosurgical ground with its first ever partial skull transplant done on then 24-year-old single mother Analisa Latchman. Now, one year later, Analisa is on the road to full recovery and thanking everyone involved.

At the age of about 10, the Lima, Essequibo Coast resident began noticing an indentation on her forehead and that began her never-ending doctors’ visits. For all of her teenage and young adult life, she had been in and out of doctors’ offices.

The indentation on her left forehead was causing her eyes to recede into her skull and as she matured, it became more pronounced. She had, at that time, no pain or anything that really warranted immediate medical attention. However, as she matured and reached her 20s, she started to experience constant headaches.

“In 2019 around August, I visited an ophthalmologist. Well he said that the eye had a problem and I should get a CT scan done. I was thinking it was the eyes, that was causing the severe headaches and so at the time I was working and I went and got the glasses and then I went and got the CT scan. My cousin who is a doctor was with me during the whole process,” she recounted.

After the scan was done, Analisa saw neurologists and other specialists but no one could have given her a definitive diagnosis and her condition was worsening. She started getting severe headaches that resulted in the loss of consciousness and that began scaring her. The sporadic episodes of loss of consciousness started in June 2019 and eventually became regular.

During my recent conversation with her, she recounted that she was scared because she was a single mother and her condition was inhibiting her ability to care for her daughter, Arianna Mansie.

Dr Sarah Lall Khan, Analisa’s cousin, took her to meet with neurosurgeon, Dr Amarnauth Dukhi.

“In June I got the first episode of loss of consciousness and then it kept progressing like, you know, it will happen like every three days, every four days and then it gone to every two day and so. My cousin said that Dr Dukhi was our last option. I saw Dr Dukhi on the first of July, I could remember clearly and from there when I saw him, he told me exactly what was happening and that I needed surgery so to fix it,” she said.

She was diagnosed with craniofacial dysplasia. However, after Dr Dukhi looked at her scans and records, he later diagnosed her with one of the rarer forms of craniofacial bone disorder – craniofacial fibrous dysplasia. According to the Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases, fibrous dysplasia is a non-malignant condition in which normal bone and marrow are replaced by fibrous tissue and haphazardly distributed woven bone.

In Analisa’s condition, her skull and facial bones were affected, and were not as hard as normal bone; and because those “bones” were soft and stringy, they were more fragile and prone to break.

She required surgery to fix it and Dr Dukhi began crafting her treatment plan. Dr Dukhi and team had to create a replacement for 40 per cent of Analisa’s skull, so he took scans and reconstructed it in 3D. He concluded that she needed a replacement and they were able procure the services of KLS Martin in the United States to have a partial skull replacement customised to Analisa’s specific needs.

Brain surgery is generally expensive because of its particular approach as well as the risk involved and being a single mother meant it was a struggle for her. Also, Dr Dukhi approached the Administration of St Joseph Mercy Hospital for assistance, as well as local businessman and Vice Chair of the Hospital’s Board, Chris Fernandes, who offered to cover the hospital costs for Latchman’s surgery.

So Analisa just paid a fraction of the cost for her surgery. She also received donations from a number of persons to aid.

…one year later

Ever since Analisa underwent surgery on August 22, 2020, her life has been somewhat pain-free and she is now adjusting.

“I can tell you that surgery at a young age can really change someone’s life. Since then, my life is not the same, it’s like everything I have to take precautions of. My entire diet has been changed. I am not the person I was let’s say five years ago but I’m here doing my best,” she said.

“I’m not 100 per cent recovered, properly as yet but I believe I’m getting there. I am still getting headaches in an out but they are not as bad and I am guessing that it is all part of the healing process. Dr Dukhi did tell me that it will take some time for me to be 100 per cent better and I am holding on to that,” Analisa added.

Speaking about the recovery process, Analisa told me that it has not been a smooth ride. As expected with any medical procedure, the recovery process is hard but brain surgery puts that recovery into another realm. After surgery, Analisa made frequent visits to Dr Dukhi for check-ups but now those visits are every three months since her recovery is progressing in line with the plan.

“I had to do back scans and so to see what was happening, how I’m heading along with the healing process. But so far everything is quite okay.”

Just about three months ago, Analisa started working again. She is now a Credit Officer at the Small Business Development Finance Trust in Essequibo. According to her, work has helped her avoid depression since she was holed up at home recovering.

Analisa added that she is extremely grateful for the assistance she would have gotten leading up to her surgery and after.

“I must thank my doctor, Dr Dukhi. He’s been a very wonderful person. He’s a humble person, and a very helpful person and without him, I don’t know where I would have been today. He has done so much and I thank him. Thank you so much to the entire public, everyone that supported me and I don’t even know half of the people have supported me. Mr Chris Fernandes played a great part in my surgery. It had some people from the village that did a barbecue to help, family, relative all. I have relatives up to now by my side and every time I call on them, they’re there. My parents I must thank them, they never leave me, they never gave up on me they, they’re always there.”

For now, Analisa is still finding her footing but is grateful that she was able to receive the help she got.