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Sickle Cell gives me opportunity to meet good people – Wale Fanu

By Ebub Babalola
Wale Fanu is a TV and Film producer and the CEO of  CINECRAFT. He  was born into the Fanu family in Lagos State. His late father was a civil servant who worked  with  the P & T. He is the third child of his mother but unfortunately, the only one born with the  sickle cell anemia.

He has been managing sickle cell crisis since he was born and for thirteen years, nobody could tell him what the problem was , not even his mother until he was thirteen years.

According to medical terms, he wasn’t supposed to live more than twenty-one years  but  miraculously, he survived. Recently, Wale Fanu  celebrated his  61st birthday. That was on 21st of April and he is till praying to God for more years .He speaks about his survival:

Wale Fanu

October 1, 1963, when Nigeria became a republic was the first day I experienced death. That day,  I learnt another lesson on sickle cell crisis that I had to beg God to take my life. I was thirteen years old, my mother didn’t know what was wrong.

The pain was too much that I couldn’t bear it. Luckily, the family me  doctor came around and examined me and discovered that I’d not been to the toilet for one week. He purged  the waste out of my system and I went into a deep sleep.

I woke and felt the pain no more. Another sad side of this crisis is that it takes me unawares and anytime it comes, I’d to go into coma for days.

In 1969, during the Christmas period, I went into coma for four days and our neighbours who were Muslims couldn’t convince my daddy that I was dead and therefore should be buried. Before then, my father had already taken to me to Dr. Ajayi’s Hospital at Apapa. Unfortunately, he rejected and referred me to Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Idi-Araba, Lagos. So, when people were celebrating Christmas, I was on sick bed in LUTH.

At that time, it was God’s grace that was sufficient for me. It was God’s intervention that brought a young doctor who was able to read my mind. Suddenly, he started pumping out the excess codeine I’d taken. That was another experience of divine rescue.

My father felt bad because it was my first major crisis that he witnessed. While I was in Ibadan, I used to trek a lot and  I never saw the crisis as a barrier but anyone who was close to me knew I had a weakness. There was a friend in my class when I was in the Polytechnic who was very  concerned about my condition and whenever I went  into crisis, she offered to let me share her room, took care of me and made sure I go to school. So, I’ve been opportuned to meet people who became my friends on genuine reasons.

I had a classmate who designed the Polytechnic logo that the school uses till date. His name is Waheed. He celebrated his 60th  birthday some months ago. He is a member of Institute of Civil Engineering and Town Planning. He and some other friends rescued me when I had crisis in Ibadan.

When I came alive after four days, my father and I became friends. He confided in me that he wouldn’t want to see me go through such a traumatic condition away from where he was. He said, “if you can go into coma for four days in my house, there is no tendency that you wouldn’t die in the campus”.

So he asked me to withdraw from the school and I obeyed. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sit down doing nothing because I was only 20 years old. And I didn’t believe that I was going to leave this world.

Unknown to him, I started struggling with life. I was looking for a job that was creative because I couldn’t afford to stay at home even though, I knew the implication. One day, I spoke with my father’s friend who came to our house. I told him that I saw him at Obalende and he asked what I was doing there. I confessed that I was in search of work.

Then, he asked me my area of specialisation and I told him that I needed a chemistry- based course. He interrupted and said, “you were doing Electrical Engineering in Ibadan”, and I answered  that it didn’t work out. So, he offered me a job in their film laboratory in Ikoyi. An interview was conducted and that was how I joined the film industry.

One day, my boss called me and gave me a warning not to be coming to the office in shorts and that was another turning point. Out of my monthly salary, my father gave me one pound which covered my feeding and transport allowance. I didn’t need money for anything.  I got a book called, “car driving in two weeks.”

I read the book and fortunately, I was using my father’s car for practical and became an expert, So, I started taking my father to his workplace and social gatherings. Driving became a hobby and my father and I became very close. I continued to manage myself in and out of the crisis.

Unknowingly, this sickle cell ailment had damaged my hip-joint on the left side. People continued to ask what was wrong with my leg but I didn’t know what to say. The excuse I gave was that, it was accident I had when I was young. At a point, I began to feel  pain especially after a long walk. That was how, I continued my journey to life. One lesson I got from my experience is that a right attitude is the key to life. One elderly man  offered me a job. I was the youngest amongst the  people he employed.

This man and my father’s friend  became my role models such that I was able to gather lots of experiences from them. Eventually, this man told me that the Nigerian Television Service wanted to start a laboratory because the film unit in the Ministry of Information was the body responsible for the Head of State Broadcast as there was no network at that time.

So, my immediate senior colleague and I  were begged to come and work for them and process the work. We worked tirelessly and I learnt a lot although I was supposed to attend an interview at NBC the next day. The producer of that programme became my friend till date. In fact, he hosted me in his house in London when I celebrated my 50th anniversary.

I had the opportunity of interacting with the best hands in the film industry in and out of the country.
I’ve enjoyed both sides of sickle cell crisis. I don’t have any regrets in it. I have been able to tell others what I do to manage myself.  The ugliest part of the sickle cell thing was when I heard that somebody died in  the crisis. There was a particular family I met.

They had two teenagers who had sickle cell anemia. One of them attended a Polytechnic and within six months, this family lost the two children. I also lost a cousin to that crisis.  Looking back at all the ugly side of the story, when I was about to celebrate my 60th birthday, something told me to share my experience with people who for whatever reason cannot tell their story.

I was encouraged to do that because of what I read about a woman who had sickle cell but was married to a doctor. She died at the age of 80. I wanted to meet that woman. I collaborated with the Sickle Cell Foundation and we organised a seminar.

By the grace of God, I don’t have  regrets that I passed through that ugly situation, but I’m encouraged now because people are still talking to me. The dayI was invited to give a lecture on sickle cell in my church, a woman came with two kids.

I didn’t know what she came there to do until she said she wanted to enquire how to register her son who has SS. I talked to the boy and the mother and the mother said, “since we lost his elder brother, he is always scared that he was going to die whenever he was in crisis.” At that point, I remembered what my mother went through, having a child who has a disorder that wasn’t known to anybody. What this particular ailment did to me is that, whenever the attack is coming, I always know what to do although it takes four days of “terror” before one can finally recover.

The major challenge I had initially was the burden I was to my mother. It took my mother thirteen years to know what was wrong with me.  At the age of 13, I was referred to Kano General Hospital because we were based in Zaria. That was where it was discovered that I had sickle cell after medical research. The doctor  called my mother and told her that the information in the paper showed that I could  only be lucky to live up to 21 years.

Playfully, I ignored that statement. It was a painful experience to tell a woman that her son was going to die at a particular age. But, the doctor was blunt because he was a family friend. The doctor gave me a letter to the school to exempt me from any manual work and to permit me to use mattress to sleep on the bed because we were using cardboard to sleep.

So, everything worked out for me in that school. At a point, I had an Irish house-master who brought me a bucket of water in my hostel when I was in crisis because I could not go and fetch water myself and the gardener wasn’t available. We had about 75 percent foreign teachers and everything was tutored to perfect upbringing.

Honestly, I’m happy I went to that school. The school was St. Paul’s College Zaria. It is located in a small village called Usasar, very close to Kofina hills. And we went to the rock for hacking. Along the line, we had an expatriate teacher who owned a bird called “Secretary Bird”.

This secretary bird, fed on lizards and snakes and after prep, the teacher would gather us to go in search of snakes and lizards for his bird. He thought us how to catch live snakes and lizards because the bird wouldn’t eat a dead thing.  It liked  the excitement of struggling with a living thing.We also provided live animals including frogs, birds for the mock examination.

We went into the swampy areas of the village in search of frogs which they used  for their practical. It was odd when I came to the South to hear that some schools didn’t have laboratories. They were doing their experiments on paper. We had good laboratory with all species of animals.

A few days to my school certificate examination after all the preparations, we denied ourselves holidays and other exciting things to face our studies but unfortunately, I had another crisis. The head cook who was not in anyway related to me was the one who intervened and boiled water and unknown to me, he had arranged for an Hausa local massager.

It was that man that slashed me on my arms and drew out blood and massaged my body and I was able to do the exam.
I wouldn’t know why I had to go through such a traumatic experience. Perhaps, to understand the gravity of what that doctor told my mother in Kano thirteen years ago.

Recently, I was invited America for seminars. Unfortunately, the crisis came and I couldn’t finish up the programme. I had to rush back to Nigeria.

The lesson in this crisis is that people should be able to control any pain relief around a sickle cellar. He or she doesn’t know what pain relief to take when in crisis. It’s painful and kills. You should be able to know your body chemistry.

Understand what you should take, understand how to manage yourself. The industry I work with is strenuous but I know my limit and I try to stay within that limit. If everybody can take time to understand his or her body chemistry, such individual will survive it.

A sickle cell patient  needs trust. He or she must be able to trust his or her friends and family. It is that trust that will give way for better understanding. They will take over the responsibility of providing things that will make you feel comfortable.

A sickle cellar must know that he or she cannot get constipation. You must make sure he goes to toilet at within two days. He must be able to sleep well and there are other things he or she must take precautions for. Don’t over stress yourself.

When I ventured out of employment, I didn’t see as a risk but a challenge. I’d professional relationship with Tunde Kelani, we were traveling all over the country. We knew and trusted each other.

We were doing “Mirror in the Sun” for many years. But, when I’m tired I quickly tell the producer.

I’ve had crisis on one night. I was coming from Surulere to Alagbado. The clutch of the car broke down and the crisis had started, this time, it was my legs. I drove the car without clutch from Surulere to Alagbado. That day, God didn’t allow me to stop at any point until I got to the gate of my house in Alagbado.

I’d a custom that wherever I was going to stay for more than a month, I must register in a reputable hospital and have a cordial relationship with the doctor. He or she must know my condition because when the crisis comes, it might be difficult to explain to anybody.

I do not want people to see a sickle cell as a liability. Doctor said, I only had 21 years to live on the planet earth. Now I am 61 years by God’s grace and right now, I don’t plan to die.

I thank God that I’m able to live one year after sixty.

Presently, people ask me how I managed to survive but the more they ask me that question, the more I feel for my mother how she managed not to know what my problem was.

Each time, this crisis comes, the only thing I cry is hot water. I don’t know gives that insight. I have nothing to hide and I don’t pretend, I’m 100 per cent well. No, I’m strengthened to tell people that I’m a sickler.

One of the residual thing caused by the sickle cell was my damaged hip of which medical experts both in and out of the country advised that I shouldn’t touch. The American Surgeon I met before 40 said, do not do it. But, when I can no longer work to earn money, I should come back, it will be done.

None of my parents told how I contracted this problem. I’ve never heard it from any of them when they were alive. Probably I contracted it from both of them. But, I never had the chance to think of how I became an SS.

The first friend I had in Lagos was SS. And he died two years after we knew each other. There is something peculiar about SS patients and that is, it is very easy to tell if an individual is SS. If this condition gives me another twenty years,

I will continue to do what I’m doing. I still drive myself. I’m only praying that God should strengthen me to work harder in finding solution to it.


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