By Sola Ogundipe

THE 4th of July is unforgettable for Jude Ikegwuonu, not because it’s his birthday or any other anniversary and not even because it’s America’s Independence Day. To be exact, the day in question holds no fond memories for the young and energetic journalist—only pain. On that day in 2013, Jude was involved in a road traffic accident that permanently changed his life.

That freak road traffic accident four years ago has become the centre point of his problems. Jude is quadriplegic (paralysed from the neck and chest down). He is almost totally helpless and needs to be attended to almost constantly. But Jude is far from hopeless. A recent encounter with the amiable and talented broadcaster at his home in Festac Estate, Lagos, was a worthwhile experience. Jude is lively, cheerful and enthusiastic. His disposition belies the seriousness of his physical challenge.

During the encounter, he recounted the circumstances of his predicament. Although it’s been four long years since the incident, memories of events of the fateful day are deeply etched in Jude’s memory.

A lady caregiver helping to feed Jude

Jude and his elder sister had travelled by air to Abuja and were on their way by road to Minna, Niger State, when a cow suddenly strayed onto the road in front of the hired vehicle in which they were travelling.

He recalled vividly that the driver lost control while trying to avoid the animal and that it was his sister, who only suffered a minor fracture on her wrist, narrated how he had been flung from the somersaulting vehicle and was found on the highway motionless afterwards.

“The vehicle somersaulted about four times. I didn’t know because I passed out at probably the second. I couldn’t believe it was real. It was like watching a 5D Action Thriller. The next thing I remember was someone placing a phone on my left ear and the voice on the other end kept asking: How are you? Can you hear me? Can you talk?

“The only thing I knew I said was ‘I will not die. I am a survivor. I am a victor’. All I could feel at that point was this excruciating pain and wetness all over, not knowing that I was lying in a pool of my own blood.”

Jude only became fully conscious while being moved to the hospital in an Ambulance. The rest of the story was a haze of pain.

Following the mishap, Jude did not immediately realise what had happened to him, but as he could not move his hands or legs, it was clear he had suffered a serious spinal injury. Following series of complicated medical examinations that lasted up to a month, in a number of hospitals from Abuja to Lagos, Jude was finally diagnosed quadriplegic.

Further he said: “From the point of the accident, I became paralysed from chest down and have been engaged in serious physiotherapy till date. Two years later in March 2015, I was flown to India for a seven-month intensive physiotherapy and occupational therapy programme. So far, there’s been progress, although my fingers and legs are yet to pick up, not to mention bowel and bladder control.”

It’s been four years but the scars of the incident are as fresh as the first day. According to Jude, one thing about having a spinal cord injury is that people don’t usually understand just how terrible it can be. “Unlike being a kidney failure patient that can easily go for a transplant, a spinal injury patient cannot have the damaged body parts replaced,” he remarked.

“The pain I go through daily is indescribable. The pain is real. It is really bad, but over the years I’ve learned to deal with it. I’ve told myself I just have live beyond the pain.

“The sores on my legs are terrible. I have no feeling in them at all, just a sensation inside. If you were to see my backside, the scars or sores there are terrible. While in India, the sores so bad so bad and deep, the doctor recommended plastic surgery. The area was being cleaned with strong disinfectant (bleach) and had to be dressed regularly before it healed.

Jude’s typical day starts early. It begins with a drink of one sachet of packaged water. “My house help prepares and serves me the water, after which he helps to brush my teeth then gives me a bed bath and generally cleans me up. After that I have breakfast. Normally I do not eat before 11am to noon, then again at 7pm. For breakfast I can have whatever I feel like having or just settle for whatever’s available.

“Usually what I have is rice in the morning and eba in the evening. I might also take a little bit of moin moin and gari. I hardly have lunch, I think the last time I had any lunch was three years ago. I take meals I eat twice Take meal at 12 and again till 7pm just twice daily, the recession is biting.

“When you do not having control of your bowels and bladder, and you need to wear diaper, it’s important to be mindful what you eat because cleaning up an issue. My mother, caregiver (male nurse) and fiancée are responsible for my personal hygiene.

Later in the day, a physiotherapist visits. Although I should have daily sessions with him, but for now he comes around three times a week. He massages my entire body using a machine or his hands. Afterwards, he sits me up since I do not sit too often. Then he stands me up and straightens me up to enable me put some weight on my legs. This is done in order to enable them get stronger.

“My fiancée was with me in India during the seven months I was there and was responsible for my personal welfare and hygiene. In India you would be required to pay for someone to do that for you and it’s quite expensive. I need to consider everything from economic to nutritional perspectives. My siblings are trying so much and I need to consider them. So far they have spent a fortune on me even though they have their own responsibilities.

In attempt to reduce cost, Jude switched from table water to sachet water. “When I just returned from the hospital in India, the doctor advised that I should be taking bottled water only for health reasons. But it was just too expensive to continue taking just table water indefinitely.

“It was on my own I decided to switch to sachet water. I tried it for the first few days and when nothing unexpected happened, I switched to sachet water permanently.

“Before the trip to India, I could only move my neck and even then I had a neck collar on. While abroad, I did intensive physiotherapy and occupational therapy that stretched my hands. Previously, my hands could not be stretched and I could not move my fingers.

Jude lies on a special electronically controlled compressed air bedspread that helps prevent bedsores. But it’s getting old and beginning to leak.

“I bought it when I went to India and I’m trying to order a new one, but the cost is the problem. It costs around N50,000 abroad but shipping it to Nigeria could cost twice as much and would take a very long time. The only way would be to send it down through someone.”

“The room is stuffy so a standing fan placed by the bed runs 24/7. Even then, Jude tends to feel the discomfort of heat and require periodic body rub downs with cold water. “When it rains I feel better, but I don’t switch off the fan when it’s raining.

“The cooling effect of the rub down calms me till I sleep. Once I sleep I’m okay. At times I call my mum to clean me up. What she has learned to do is to give me sleeping tablets. There are days that I need to take Lexotan to make me sleep. It makes me relaxed, but I’ve come to live beyond that

I cannot do without the fan, but power supply is a real challenge. I have an inverter, to charge it, the generator needs to run at least eight hours so the inverter can last overnight till the following day.

Jude is seeking to improve his physical and psychological state, as well as be reintegrated back to the society. The lack of facilities or regulations to make public buildings accessible to people with physical disabilities is a huge challenge for him to leave his room, let alone outside the house where he would need to be carried up and down the stairs.

Although, modern technology has made it easy with the invention of mobile ramps and an electric stairs-climbing wheelchair, these are inventions that make life less frustrating for even a quadriplegic. Unfortunately, they are way too expensive for even an average Nigerian. The last time I checked, the stair-climbing wheelchair alone cost over US$20,000 including shipping costs, not to mention the cost of mobile ramps which goes for about US$3,000 (depending on weight and length).

A modified vehicle (or mini-van) to help transport Jude and his mobility aids from one point to another is also required.

The cost is prohibitive, but Jude remains hopeful and trusting that God would provide a helper(or helpers) that will support him in achieving the goal of buying these mobility aids and get his life fully back on track again.

“I want to use this medium to appreciate God Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, the Alpha and Omega, the God that made it possible for me to be a source of inspiration to millions out there through my inspirational videos, even in my quadriplegic state. It can only be God. I also want to appreciate my family. You are the best!” Jude can be reached on @judeikegwuonu and 08033710933.

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