A Polio attack in infancy has confined Kelechi Uhegwu to a life wheelchairs and crutches. An otherwise simple action of standing and walking is for her, a daily ordeal as she can neither stand nor walk unaided. Nevertheless, the vibrant and energetic 29-year-old is looking beyond the formidable odds of her physical challenge.
Kelechi’s most heart-felt desire is to walk again. The Zoology graduate and make-up artist, is optimistic that despite the diagnosis of paralytic scoliosis, she will walk again.
A hospital in Nottingham, England, can perform the corrective surgey, the only snag is that the N15 million required for the procedure. In this encounter with Sola Ogundipe, Kelechi makes a passionate appeal for assistance from kind-hearted Nigerians. Excerpts:
IT all began shortly after her 1st birthday when she fell ill and was admitted into the General Hospital, Agbor in Delta State. “Initially, doctors thought it was a case of malaria or measles. They prescribed injections that I could stand but was unable to walk. Then came the diagnosis – poliomyelitis (paralytic scoliosis).”
Kelechi’s parents were devastated. Not prepared to give up, they took their daughter Lagos to seek better treatment.
“All my life was school, home, Church and the hospital. I had a minimum of two visits a week to the hospital and each visit was hell. I was always in the hospital for physiotherapy and it was extremely painful. I had my treatment at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) and National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos. The experience wasn’t interesting.
Ability in disability
Although polio limited Kelechi’s movement, it didn’t limit ‘the person in her. “I learned to walk with leg braces and crutches. I played like every other child and even had my fair share of being bullied.”
In 2006, she was nominated for the “Survival Against All Odds Awards, by the Aart of Life Foundation in which she emerged 1st Runner up. “The experience helped me to become a stronger person because people kept stopping me to say they watched the programme and they were inspired by my story. I felt good that I was an inspiration to someone.
Despite the overwhelming odds, Kelechi bagged a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology from the University of Lagos in 2008.
“My entry into the University was a miracle. I had battled with JAMB for two years so I struggled and bought a Diploma form at Unilag, passed the entrance examination even though I did not have money to pay my school fees. Another challenge was transportation to Akoka from Satellite Town. Diploma students weren’t given accommodation in school.”
But being an optimist, Kelechi woke up every morning, without a dime, but would get a ride from strangers to school.
“I met the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academics) of my time who was pleased with my zeal to be educated despite my physical and financial challenges and he gave me approval to write the exam. I came out with good grades with which I gained admission by Direct Entry to study a degree course in Zoology and my debt was erased. How I made it through Diploma was amazingly miraculous.
Moving around has been a tough affair for Kelechi. Even as an undergraduate, on several occasions, she missed attending classesat the Faculty of Science.
“I couldn’t go for all the classes as my human energy couldn’t carry me. So, I either stayed for all the lectures that would be held at third floor or downstairs throughout a day.”
She commutes with a wheelchair and a pair of crutches and asserts that neither has influenced her relationship with anyone. “People are attracted to my personality and relate with me as a person, not as a ‘challenged person. Although been confined to the wheelchair and crutches for years, there is a corrective surgery that can turn her Kelechi’s life around. This procedure is available at the Nottingham University Hospital in the United Kingdom.
A consultant spinal surgeon at the Centre for Spinal Studies and Surgery at the facility, Dr. J.K Webb describes the predominant problem in Kelechi’s spine as being in the lower thoracic and lumbar regions. To regain her normal posture and walk unaided again, Kelechi requires two surgeries. The first is an anterior surgical process that will allow her spine to be more mobile.
A week afterwards, this will be followed by a posterior stabilisation process with rods and screws as well as fusion of the spine with a 2-stage procedure to complete the correction of the spinal deformity.
There probability of success of the procedures is very high. The only snag is the cost. The overall cost is estimated at 47,000 pounds sterling (N15 million). But this is a sum that is way more than what Kelechi can afford as an individual considering her present financial status.