Limbless Kids Tell Tales Of Loss, Agony And Hope
They are like child soldiers carrying wounds that bore fatal remembrance of a distress battle they had gone through. Hannah Ojo tells their stories of agony.
What makes Medinat Jimoh different from other babies? It is not just in her radiance or the vivacity of her dainty steps, shown in the manner she warmed up to the inviting smile of this reporter, coiling into her extended hands with consummate familiarity. She is three months away to clocking two, yet she has withstood intense pain and anguish that would jolts adult an individual faced with the same circumstance. The story of her limb loss commands sympathy; her arm simply fell out with the towel her body was wrapped with on getting to the hospital. According to her mother Mrs Motunrayo Jimoh, a fashion designer, who resides in Igbo Olomu, a hinterland in Ikorodu, Lagos State, she noticed some days after Medinat’s naming ceremony that she couldn’t wriggle her right hand the way infants are wont to do when they cry to get attention.
“The third day after her naming ceremony, I took her for immunization at the Ikorodu General Hospital. I had a misgiving when the nurse wanted to inject the same arm that wasn’t moving well but she assured me not to worry saying injecting it would prevent infections from getting into it. Knowing the attitude of nurses in government hospitals, I kept quiet because I can’t teach them their job”.
It was a week after the immunization on the injected arm that complications began to set in. Slowly, the arm began to deteriorate and the peace of the baby was disturbed. At barely a month old, Medinat was bearing pains which prevented her from eating and sleeping well. Following the disturbance, her mother took her to a trado-medical clinic at Oworo, a community which she had patronized in earlier times for the delivery of the first three issues she had before Medinat. With the affected arm becoming dark, she was told to rub Shea butter (ori) in order to relieve the baby of pains. By the second day, the hand had darkened so much that the softness of the bone could be felt at just a touch. It was at this point that she was advised to take the baby to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba. Recalling how Medinat’s limb finally came off, she said: “ When we got to LUTH, as the nurses made to remove the wrapped towel from my baby’s body to begin treatment, both the towel and my baby’s arm fell off together. The bone was just standing. I was shocked”.
To save her life, the remaining part of the arm had to be amputated. Battling to control her emotions while relieving the painful experience of her child’s limb loss which led to her spending close to three months at LUTH in 2012, Motunrayo believed her baby must have been a victim of some spiritual attack. “My baby was attacked”, she said with a firm iota of certainty. However, investigation by this reporter showed a contrary possibility. The eventual loss of Medinat limbs may have been as a result of the circumstances surrounding her birth and the ignorance which trailed the handling of the situation thereafter. Dr. Orlando Ugwoegbulem, a consultant Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgeon at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos, affirmed that weakness at the upper limb of a child can occur as a result of the circumstance surrounding the birth.
According to him, “There is a possibility that in the process of trying to deliver a child, the hand might have been pulled and the nerve that powers it becomes stretched so the hand becomes weak and the child usually is unable to make use of that hand. Commonly when you notice that, what you do is to rest the hand or send to a physiotherapist, it would regain its power”.
Asked whether the immunization which was injected on the same hand could have worsen the case, he said; “That injection would have introduce an infection into the bone which now caused gangrene and the hand dropped off. That is the likely pathology of what happened. It is the immunization that would have introduced an infection and that infection now caused what you call osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone”.
In actual fact, Medinat was not delivered in a hospital. Her mother, Motunrayo was rushing from her base in Ikorodu to Oworo, where the trado-medical clinic she patronizes is located. “I took an Okada (motor cycle) to Igbo-olumu junction but I could not go on again. There was no hospital around so some women came to help deliver the baby and I went back home. I usually don’t have birth complications”.
A dream on the fringe
There is a future prospect which makes 10 years old Dorcas Adepitan cheer with excitement. She imagines herself in a white coat holding a stethoscope. Little wonder she tells anyone who cares to listen that she wants to be a doctor. However, a sad development occurred, her dream is on the verge of being washed out as it appears to be hinging on a fringe. The JSS 1 pupil of Elvan Adelaja Secondary School, Bariga, Lagos was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a cancer of the bone. This led to her right leg being amputated in order to prevent the tumour from spreading. Life was normal until on an ill-fated day; she hit her leg against a desk in school. She relates her experience thus, “I was staying on my seat and the boy was running so I hit my leg on the desk. I told my mum and she started rubbing it for me. It started swelling up so they took me to LUTH. The result came and they said they had to amputate.”
Describing her daughter as a loving and happy child, Mrs Erinola Adepitan, a petty trader relayed her fears for the future: “I need help so that I won’t lose her. She has taken more than six doses of chemotherapy. I am reaching out to Nigerians to help me. If we can meet a helping hand on time, the cancer won’t kill her. I can’t do it alone. What am I selling? For me to spend money on her and end up losing her would be a huge loss”.
Bone setters, Phony Prophecies and needless loss
The tales of Adebowale Alabi and Afeez Usman are cases of acquired limp losses which might have been prevented if help had been sought at the right time and the right place. When Oscar Wilde, the Irish poet wrote in his book The Importance of Being Ernest that “Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it, and the bloom is gone”, he certainly didn’t have Mrs Ayomide Alabi in mind. The young woman had been force to abandon her private business owing to the burden of caring for a child with a missing limb. She did not heed to the doctor’s advice to take her son for surgery when his fracture became complicated because she was told at the churches where she went to pray that her son might die or end up being amputated. So she hoped for miracles and heeded to the advice of an Imam to hire the service of an Ijaw bone setter to treat her son. Her son, 7 years old Adebowale Alabi had sustained an injury while playing ball with his brother. After the passing of time with the bone setter in charge, things took a turn for the worse. The leg later developed a swelling which seems to contain a mixture of blood and water. “Although the bone setter said I should ignore it that the boy was only responding to treatment, I called a nurse who advised that the wound should be pressed to remove the pores. She used scissors to open it and said I should buy antibiotics. After they opened the wound, for five days the boy couldn’t sleep again. He was in pains. I didn’t want to go to Igbobi because of the message I heard. When I eventually took him there, I was subjected to rains of abuses with the way I handled the case. The doctor said I should take my baby away if I didn’t want surgery”. After the surgery, Debo has been fine. He is looking forward to receiving prosthesis from the Irede foundation, an NGO dedicated to raising hope for limbless children.
She learnt the hard way and is quick to warn others. “Don’t listen to people who said it is someone that is behind your situation. If I had not listened to people that (the prophecies) and gone to the hospital on time, maybe this would not have happened. The second one I regret is that local treatment is not good. Anybody with any kind of problem should go to the hospital in this case”.
For Afeez Usman, the lad sustained an injury on his hand while playing with his step brothers at Ilorin. In the course of five days, the hand got swollen and the mum took him to a bone setter in Bariga on returning back to Lagos. The hand which began to decay was amputated at a General Hospital at Ilorin. Aware of the limitation that his limb loss cost him, the young lad actually shed tears when the reporter met him and his mum. “Whenever he returns from school crying, I can always guess what the problem is. That means his mate has called him alapakan (one hand man) and I will console him and urge him to leave them to God”. Afeez who has been without a limb for five years is also waiting to get prosthesis fittings at Irede Foundation. Her mum expresses her joy at the prospect. “That means he would be able to help with the house chores and also wear fine cloths”.
Although it is quite common for parents to employ the use of bone setters to treat fractures, the trend however could be dangerous. It was learnt that 75-80 percent of amputations in children which occurred at the The National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi was a result of complications from bone setters. It is in lieu of this that Dr Ugwoegbulem further said the efficiency of bone setters is limited in treating fractures because there are important structures in the bone which they may not be able to identify and treat appropriately.
Congenital limb loss in children
Congenital deficiencies can be the complete absence of a limb, more commonly, part of the limb is missing and the remaining portion has not formed normally. Sometimes, surgery is performed to straighten the limb or to address limb length inequality. At other times, surgery may be recommended to reshape the limb to enhance prosthetic fitting. Mrs Elfrida Usman, a civil servant who gave birth to a child with congenital limb loss describes her shock when she delivered her baby and noticed his limb was missing. “When the nurse raised him for me to see and one leg was off, I just said wow! She told me ‘ Thank God you have other children’. Immediately I just felt this is like having a child and the child dies”.
At that moment what were you thinking? She was asked. “It was like carrying a child for nine months. I actually tried to console myself that I have other children, I mustn’t die because of one since I have to be there for the others. That moment I didn’t feel too bad at that time but later the impact of what had really happened dawned on me”, she said further. Elfrida who named her son Isaac has come to see the special ability in him. Even though one of his limbs is missing and he has no fingers, he attends a regular school and he is able to write and even help with house chores. “There are certain things my son does that other children of his age can’t do. If Isaac should pick up a broom and sweep the floor, you will be wondering who swept it. One of the teachers called me and said ‘this boy is an amazing child he is going to do great things’. She showed me how Isaac kneaded tiny holes during art work. He feeds himself”.
Hope springs eternal
At a cocktail event organized by The Irede foundation in August last year, 3 years old Beulah Chigbu who was born with a missing tibia and patella in her right leg, came out to render a poem thanking donors for giving hope to child amputees. Her mother, Crystal Chigbu, a top manager with one of the multi-national companies in the country could not hold back her tears. She confessed to her inability to hold back the emotions at other moment when she sees her child aiming for things without limitation. “A case in point would be when she had to compere an event in school and she was standing for over one hour. I can go on and on with such moments when I see her trying to cook, dance ballet and swim. With that I am excited and a lot of times I ‘tear up’”.
When her daughter was born with congenital limb defeat, Crystal had a hard time accepting her daughter’s fate. With the support of her husband, she moved on and was inspired to start a foundation to help child amputees after seeing the difference a prosthesis fitting made for her daughter. The Irede Foundation was founded in 2012 and with the support of donor partners is giving hope to child amputees by providing them with free prosthesis so that they can confidently live a self-sufficient life free of limitations and social stigmatization. Some respondents who shared their limb loss experience with this reporter have benefited from the foundation while others are waiting in line to get prosthesis. Reacting to how it feels to keep parents on hold before getting prosthesis, she said; “It can be very painful. At those times I just feel I wished I was the richest woman in the world. We are beginning to learn that life is in phases and things have to be done in phases so our call is for people to support what we are doing so that we can attend to these children faster and better. We would like to do a lot more than we are doing today but it is tied to a lot of finances. We are hoping that we would keep getting better and we can reach out to more kids”.
It is more common to see children with disability using more of clutches as against prosthesis owing to the cost involved. Mrs Juliana Aluko, the Assistant Director, Prosthetics and Orthotics department, National Orthopaedic Hospital Igbobi also opined that prosthesis is the best option for a child when it comes to mobility. “Mobility with clutches is not the same as artificial limb. When a child has artificial limb, he would be able to walk and go back to normal life”. She also speaks on the types of prosthesis available for mobility: “There are the conventional types of prosthesis which is called exo-skeletal because the outer shell is hard. It is made of plastic and wood. The second is the endo-skeletal type or modula prosthesis. It has a pipe that represents the bone of the patience. That pipe is covered with foam which represents human flesh and is covered with holes called cosmetic stockings. The foam represents the muscle of the patience such that when you touch it, you feel a soft part of that prosthesis. It is easy to assemble, it is durable, lighter but it is more expensive”.
According to a development report, every year, 2000 children are born with a disability or become disabled before the age of 19. 70 percent of these children are in developing countries like Nigeria. It is said that without access to adaptation assistant tools 90 percent of these kids born into developing world like Nigeria may never have the opportunity to access education, employment, marriage or even a self-supportive lifestyle. For the countless kid caught in this quagmire, hope can still play its part. It is time for a forward thinking Corporate Social Responsibility from both individuals and organizations.