By Ephraim Oseji
For 17 years, Mrs. Alaba Gbadebo was in agony, as she struggled to care for her son, Olaoulwa, suffering from cerebral palsy.
For a mother who had given birth to two children, Mrs. Gbadebo noticed, right from birth, signs in her new born baby which were different from her two other children. Firstly, she got him through Caesarian operation and medical records had it that the baby delayed crying for an hour.
She became more worried about her new born baby when, in the following days, instead of seeing progressive development in him, the child started exhibiting signs of seizure, weak neck, and was not responding to breast milk. He cried incessantly.
Because of the strange development, after six months, Mrs. Gbadebo and her husband, AVM Gbadebo (RTD), who was then an airforce officer serving in Kano, relocated to Lagos where he felt he could be closer home and give proper attention to the ailment of their new baby. It was however in Lagos that the ailment was first diagnosed by Dr Sheyi Robert, a neurologist and family friend, as cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy is used to describe a group of chronic condition affecting body movement and muscles coordination. It is caused by damage to one or more areas of the brain, usually occurring during foetal development or during infancy. It has no cure. It could only be managed. Everything about the treatment and management ailment is expensive.
After the diagnosis, Mrs. Gbadebo started searching for remedy for their child. She travelled to London, America and India.
Her husband was not left out in attempt to provide succour for their physically challenged child. After her husband retirement, he joined her in taking care of the child.
The mother, who said they had accepted their fate on the child, explained, “A mother with cerebral palsy child has a lot of challenges. She has to think of the home, the other children, her husband and her work. She must plan to juggle these things.
She has to be active and attentive because a child with cerebral palsy demands so much. It is a twenty four-hour care. At home, I have two nurses who attend to my son. Their duties are to change his nappies, both him and ensure he gets all treatment. There is a man on standby who carries him as he cannot walk. ”
Despite the disability, Mrs Gbadebo said, “My child is highly intelligent. His hearing is perfect. It is only that he cannot talk. He has very few words like mama, dad, go. He also uses his body language to respond to questions by smiling or nodding. He shows appreciation and identifies people. He understands everything, but he cannot write or say it.
“Nobody can understand what a mother with a child suffering from cerebral palsy is going through. There is a lot of depression. At times, I do not want to get up from bed because I do not know where to start from. But you will realize that your child needs you, other children need you, your husband needs you.
It has taken my time and made me to travel all over the world. It is not an easy journey. I thank God for standing by me. My husband stood by me. Most Nigerian men will run. My husband is supportive and fully engaged in making sure he showed example to Nigerian men.”
She disclosed that their long time goal is to build BENOLA Cerebral Palsy Centre in Lagos, where they would have in-house doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, nurses and social workers to be saddled with the responsibility of treating and managing children with the ailment.
“We intend having all the medical professional specialists in the centre so that patients will be going there for management and treatment at least three times a week. I use my son as example. When we went to India, I took my son to the Cerebral Palsy Centre in New Delhi.
The treatment was free of charge. That is what BENOLA intends doing so that we can handle the problem of management for very poor families. We are not talking of families that can afford it, but those families who cannot afford. These are pepper grinder, tomatoes seller and petty traders.
“We will be able to supply those affected drugs prescribed by the doctor monthly. We also plan to bring the drugs from India which is relatively cheaper. Apart from medication, they are expected to bring the children for physiotherapy three times a week. It is a multi-disciplinary centre. I cannot say exactly how much it will cost, but I know that it will run into millions of dollars.
“Our starting the centre depends on how soon we get the resources from both external and internal sponsors. We are not running a home. Rather we are helping homes. Right now we have four homes we are helping. Those who have cases of cerebral palsy in their areas should come together and contact us so that we can have a family forum.
We need a catchment area. Do not hide your child. Come and mix with others so that you can have proper management.” Mrs Gbadebo appealed to government, corporate organizations, international donors and well- meaning Nigerians to assist them on the project in creating joy for children suffering from cerebral palsy.