It was never their wish to live at the discomfort of others or rely on the wheel chair to move around. But cruel fate has put them in a position where they would have to depend on help from other people to board a vehicle or visit the rest room. They had lofty dreams and aspirations until their destinies were altered by terrible accidents, GBENGA ADERANTI spoke with some spinal cord injury victims and they relived their frustrations.
At 46, Abiodun Christiana has been through a lot. The upper part of her body was wrapped in bandage as she was being wheeled into the sitting room. At the sight of the reporter, she beamed a smile that was clearly at variance with the trauma that characterises her life.
Until her spinal cord was damaged in an accident about two years ago, Christiana, a former games prefect in her secondary school, was an active footballer. Her plight began when she fell into a well in her house on June 24, 2018.
“I mistakenly fell into an abandoned well about 78ft deep. I just give glory to God because but for Him, I would be in the grave by now,” she said as recalled the ugly incident with a smile.
Then she added: “I know my accident was not ordinary. It cannot be ordinary that someone falls into a pit she always knew was there. There was no good reason for me to fall into it, but when the devil wants to do his thing, he knows how to manipulate.
Christiana had been taken to Wesley Guild Hospital, Ilesha, Osun State where she spent two days before she was told to go and do an MRR test in Ibadan, after which she was referred to Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital (OAUTH), Ile Ife. There, Christiana’s back was operated upon and an implant was fixed. An implant was also fixed on her fractured leg after which she had to depend on the wheel chair to move around.
Happily, she recalled that life is better for her now than it was at the initial period she had the accident. “At the initial stage of the accident, I would not know when I was pressed. I could not get up from the bed or do anything by myself,” she said.
If there is one thing Christiana has missed the most on account of her condition, it is her passion for football. But she said that rather than brood over it, she is deriving joy from seeing other people play the game.
Besides the pains and different kinds of sensation she feels on her legs and other parts of her body, her sedentary life style it is a big challenge.
She said: “It is like magic to me when I see a baby walking around. It is not easy to just sit on the same spot permanently as it were. That coupled with the sensations I feel around my body is very challenging.”
She was full of praises for Osun State Agency for Community and Social Development Project (CSDP), for helping spinal cord victims.
Michael Oluwatobi Awe, another victim of spinal cord injury lives like a baby even though he is already 28. He depends on his father and other relations to do virtually everything, including visiting the toilet or having a bath.
Michael was lying almost lifeless on an antiquated couch in his sitting room in Ilesha, Osun State when the reporter visited. The floor of the compact, disorganised sitting room was filled with disused plastics and different designs of carton house.
Having lost his mother a few years ago, he lives with his father, Mr Ekundayo Awe in an uncompleted mud building devoid of an access road. According to Ekundayo, part of his piece of land was sold to another person while he was with Michael in the hospital and the buyer of the property decided to bury someone on it, thereby denying him access to his uncompleted mud house.
Until his present predicament, Michael was a fringe actor in secular and Christian films with four scripts to his credit. He had in the past worked with notable artistes like, Don Richard, Baba Wande and Fathia (Williams) Balogun, among others.
To compound his woes, he could not seek help from the film industry because “the phone on which I saved the numbers of the artistes I could have called for help strangely got damaged and all the names disappeared.” Thus, many of them are not aware of his predicament.
According to him, his travails began after he underwent treatment for a minor ailment. He had thought that he was okay after the treatment until he fell down one day and was unable to stand up. Since then, his health condition continued to deteriorate until CSDP’s intervention.
According to a medical report issued by Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital (OAUTH), Ile-Ife, dated October 23, 2017, their initial assessment revealed that Michael was paraplegic with impaired skin sensation; postural scoliosis right convexity; neurogenic bladder; limb shortening; multiple bilateral lower limb joint stiffness (hip, knee and ample joint); bilateral foot deformity and limited functional abilities (ADL).
He was said to have undergone physiotherapy sessions for about eight months between 2013 and 2016.
Michael said: “The doctors carried out several tests on me but could not say exactly what caused the problem. They said it was Transverse Myelitis (TM), a rare neurological condition in which the spinal cord is inflamed. I can’t find the meaning, but what I think is that doctors don’t tell people that an ailment is mysterious or you should go and pray about it. Rather, they would explain it in one way or the other.
“We did serious tests but they could not say this is what caused it. But I believe in my God that I will still walk.”
His faith was buoyed by the fact that many people had thought he was going to die after spending one year in isolation ward but came out of the place alive.
“In fact, the nurses there named me Kokumo (one who refused to die).”
Michael’s plight has been made worse by lack of funds. At a point, his body started swelling up, prompting him to undergo another surgery.
Recalling the incident, he said: “When we got into the theatre, they found two litres of pulse in my belly, but they could not determine the cause. My belly has been operated upon five times in two years. The last operation they did on my stomach, they had to insert colostomy so that it would not burst again.”
But Michael is not allowing himself to be limited by his disability. The young man is full of talents. His memories and instincts remain sharp. Only recently, he built an electric helicopter, using ice cream plastics and bulbs. He does not only write scripts, he also draws plans and design buildings.
But his inventions and talents do not go beyond his mud house in Ilesha, Osun State.
In spite of his smiles, Michael admits that he sometimes feels frustrated. “But the thought of all that I have created keeps me alive. I believe in miracle and I’m looking up to when I would walk again and become a lawyer to help the poor.”
Like his other colleagues, he was full of praises for CSDP for assisting them. “Some of us have bed sores such that we don’t have money to buy medical materials. CSDP assisted us to get medical materials and wheel chair.”
According to him the impact of the CSDP is massive in the lives of spinal cord injury victims. “CSDP assisted us to build our centre where we meet. That is a plus. If we wanted to do that from our own resources, maybe it would take us forever. The materials from the CSDP have gone a long way.”
While Michael’s case looked irredeemable unless something drastic is done about it, Olayemi Lucky Adeleye, the coordinator of spinal injury victims association in Osun State, appears to have turned his lemon into lemonade.
Adeleye was a successful timber merchant until an accident he had during one of his business trips altered the course of his life. “The wood fell on me and I sustained spinal cord injury. I had thought that I would walk out of the hospital with my legs intact,” he said as he recalled the incident that damaged his backbone.
His expectations were not to be as he had to remain on sick bed for one and a half years before he was discharged from the hospital to face the grim reality that he would not be able to walk again.
He believes that the conditions of spinal cord injury victims would be better if there was proper medical treatment for the victims.
He said: “We don’t have good medical personnel who know how to attend to us. Their belief is that the way they treat somebody with fracture is the way they would want to treat us. But they are different because it is the spine that carries all the nerves that connect the body. Once it is affected, a lot of other things will keep coming up.”
Adeleye recalled that being kept on the bed for a very long time compounded his problem. “I started having pressure sores and lots of wounds over me. There was this excretory infection I had. They had to pierce my stomach before urine could come out. It was tough. I went through a lot of challenges,” he said.
Broke and unable to settle his medical bills, one of the doctors advised him to vacate the hospital environment. “If you don’t leave the hospital, you will die here. But if you stay with people in the town, it will affect you positively. The hospital environment is a bad area,“ the doctor reportedly counseled.
Fortunately for him, the woman he was dating before the accident agreed to marry him and the marriage has produced a 13-year-old girl. But he said that life was very difficult because no help was coming from any quarter.
Frustrated to no end he toyed with the idea of ending it all. “I thought about pushing cocaine so that I would be caught, tried and killed. After all, what I wanted was death, “ he said.
At the moment, Adeleye is in the business of soap making. But he is still faced with a lot of challenges, including moving out of his house on a daily basis. The road to his house is rough and bumpy, a situation that is not suitable for his medical condition. The oil extractor, one of the most important tools of his business, is also not available.
Adeleye is no longer bothering himself much about walking again, believing that it is a 50-50 chance.
He believes that being a spinal cord injury victim is not a death sentence, and with the necessary assistance from people, victims should be able to live their normal life.
He said: “There is nothing I cannot do as I am sitting with you. Even the one people think is not easy, the issue of getting married and having kids, it can be done easily. What most of the victims need is money and encouragement.
“We have a lot of spinal cord injury victims in homes, but family members have locked them up thinking it is hopeless. Most people poison their loved ones thinking that it is the end.”
Lucky wants the government to provide good medical care for spinal cord injury victims, saying that this would go a long way in alleviating their suffering.
He said: “Could you believe that when many us had accidents and sustained spinal cord injury, we did not have complications until we got to the hospital? It was at the hospital we got those things. For instance to do a minor spinal cord injury correction, you need just N70,000. But on getting to the hospital, you come out with pressure sores, abnormal passage, and so on.”
‘Aiyefele had triplets, I’ll have four’
Olanrewaju Olakusibe, a graduate of Textiles Technology from Kaduna Polytechnic, is a victim of spinal cord injury you cannot but look twice. Handsome and intelligent, he is the kind of man any woman would desire to marry.
His beautiful wife was with him when The Nation visited on a Tuesday morning. Like a Siamese twins, they bonded very well, having got married after the accident. Before then, Olakusibe was into buying and selling.
With the unfortunate incident which occurred during one of his business trips, he changed his orientation, did some professional courses in IT and eventually got certified in Oracle, thinking that he would get a job. Alas, that was not to be.
“I had to go back to buying and selling in the bid to survive,” he said. “I remember when I was looking for job, they would say, ‘Sorry, because of your physical condition, we don’t have space for you,’ ” he said.
Today, unlike many of his colleagues, he has done well for himself because he is IT savvy. Aside being into travelling and tourism, buying tickets for travellers, he is also into affiliate marketing and visa consultancy.
He is frustrated that the environment does not encourage physically-challenged people to thrive.
He is hopeful that one day he would still stand up and walk on his two legs. But that does not mean that he is not bothered by his present condition. “Even if I will rise up and walk, today, I have to accept the physical condition I am in,” he said.
Like some of his other colleagues, he believes that life would be much better “if the health sector were not in a mess.”
He said: “I don’t pray that even my enemy would seek medical help in Nigeria. The system is sick. When I had issue, I stayed for a year. Even the consultant that was supposed to come and check would not come. They would tell you if you like, get well, if you like, die.
“At a time we revolted in Gbobi Orthopaedic Hospital, Lagos. That was in 2011. But I won’t blame the doctors and nurses; it is the system we have found ourselves in.
“At the initial stage when I had the accident, I didn’t have any pressure sore. But by the time I got to the hospital, I had one because they would leave you at the mercy of the auxiliary workers and your family members who have little or no experience on how to take care of you.”
According to him the impact of the CSDP is massive in the lives of spinal cord injury victims. “CSDP assisted us to build our centre where we meet. That is a plus. If we wanted to do that from our own resources, maybe it will take us forever. The materials from the CSDP have gone a long way.”
At the centre, people with spinal cord injury bond and help themselves by exchanging ideas. “If we don’t have that kind of place, we won’t have a place to exchange ideas, that centre alone tells a whole lot of stories.”
He said the words of encouragement from his late mum were one of the factors that has kept him alive.
“Mum was always assuring me that I would still stand up and walk. If not for the support from my mum, I don’t think there would be any reason for me to continue with life. I would have given up,” he said.
Olakusibe disagrees with the belief of many people that spinal cord injury victims cannot father a child, saying that he plans to have a child in the nearest future.
“Whether you can or you cannot, science has also helped. You can do artificial insemination and have kids. People who are not in this condition, some of them cannot even produce what is the heck? Whether I can or I cannot, there is help.
“If you have been doing something in certain way and it is not working, there is no crime in trying another way. I love Yinka Ayefele. He is one of my mentors. For him to have triplets, I would have four. When the time comes for me to see Yinka Ayefele, it will happen and I will see him.”
‘My bank has no ramp to aid my movement’
For 60-year-old Yusuf Olatoye who is about to retire from the Anglican Middle School Edun Abon, Osun State, life has been nasty, brutish and rough because of the condition he has found himself.
His problem started in June 1992 when he fell down from an orange tree, and since then, he has been in his present condition. Like every other spinal cord injury victim, he never envisaged that he would find himself in this situation.
Narrating his ordeal, he said: “I was to get married in 1992, but unfortunately, I could not. Although I am married now, there is no issue because of the severity of my challenge.”
In his bid to have children, he visited a consultant to no avail. Now he wants the government to set up facilities like those that that made it possible for Ayefele to have triplets abroad.
He lamented that the bank where he keeps his money in the campus of Obafemi Awolowo University does not have a ramp to aid his movement into the banking hall. Hence it is always a big deal to transact any business there.
He said: “I have been having issues with my bank, especially in terms of transferring money. If I need to interface with the workers in my bank, the atmosphere is not conducive for me to do so. There is no ramp to allow me access into the banking hall.
“They said I should download an app, but I called them for more than one hour and nobody answered me. I will be retiring at the end of March this year.”
He is weary of the financial challenge that he would face after retirement saying, “if I lay my hands on the 14 or 15 months’ salary the government of Osun is owing me, I should be able to do something with that. I am on Level 13. I ought to have been on 14.
Narrating some of his ordeals, he recalled that he slipped from the wheel chair during one of his trips to school, and was confined to bed for more than four months. “It was the local bone setters that helped in setting my bones,” he said.
CSDP to the rescue
In an interview with our correspondent, the General Manager of CSDP in Osun State, Mrs Funmi Aderonke Abokede, said the agency had taken it as a project to support spinal cord injury victims. She said CSDP is an agency of World Bank with co-funding from Osun State Government .
Abokede said, before CSDP’s intervention, most of the victims had lost their self esteem. They had medical challenges and their skins normally broke down because they had to lie in a particular position for a long time.
“If they had to ease themselves, at times they would do it on the same spot. That makes their skin to break down and they have sores around their body. The sores also lead to other problems.
“Because these problems are interwoven with poverty, they are not able to buy necessary medical materials; some things like adult dippers, cotton wool, disinfectant and other things that they need to clean their sores, and that worsens their situation,” she said.
The CSDP general manager said the victims also suffer isolation. They are most times left to their fate when family members are tired of attending to them.
She said: “A lot of them lie down on the same spot where they pass urine and excreta, because family members would have been doing it for some time and they get fed up with it.
“They are left on their own and they are thinking. Some of them, compounded issue of isolation and medical problems they find themselves in make their mortality rate to be high.
“That is why we have the support centre at Edun Abon in Ife North Local Government Area. That is where they meet regularly to give themselves support.
“There, they have a store where they keep their medical support and share these among themselves.”
She noted that the intervention of CSDP now allows victims of spinal cord injuries to feel integrated into the society.
While commending the Osun State Government for its support for CSDP, she said the agency still required more funding because as awareness is being created, more and more people are becoming conscious of what the agency does.