By Chioma Obinna
Undoubtedly, the death of a child is not a rare event. For many mothers, it has no comparison. Losing a child is an experience no one wants to imagine. It is a topic you don’t want to discuss and a chapter you skip. It is every parent’s worst nightmare.
Watching your child suffer is painful; it leaves you helpless and scared.
The foregoing aptly describes the plight of Mrs Chidimma Okpala whose son died in her arms as a result of leukaemia (cancer of the blood) at the age of nine years.
Chidimma is pained. Imagine working your life out to ensure the life of your son is saved. Imagine running from pillar to post to ensure that you pay your child’s hospital bills. Imagine being told that the life of your child depends on a particular injection that costs N500, 000 but you have no money and no friend to run to. Imagine spending all that you have on his treatment only to be told by his doctors that there is nothing they can do for him.
“My child died in my arms a day after his doctor related to him that they could no longer help him because we could not afford to buy an injection that cost N500, 000,” Chidimma told Good Health Weekly in tears.
She recalled that all was well with the late Chibueze until January 2017 when he began to lose weight tremendously and show no appetite for foods.
Twice, he was taken to a private hospital where he was treated for malaria, but because he was said to have rapid growth, the Okpalas felt his condition at that time was due to growth.
But as the problem continued, Chidimma, who has three other children, began to worry that Chibueze’s condition was not normal owing to the fact that he loved to eat a lot, decided to take him to the hospital when he lost appetite and could not walk without an aid.
At the hospital, the doctors ordered laboratory tests on the boy, after which it was confirmed his blood was normal and that he was just having malaria and typhoid fever.
“We treated him with drips and the rest of them. After 3 days, he was okay, so he resumed school. He attended school for like a month, this was within January, February and March 2017.
Chidimma continued: “That March was wonderful, my baby could no longer work straight, he had to put his hands on the wall to walk. I was like ‘what kind of sickness is this?’ They said it’s Typhoid fever and it was so serious,” she said.
It was never a good time for the family; Chidimma decided to abandon every other thing to get to the root of the problem.
She continued: “We went to another hospital nearby, and immediately we got there, the Midwife said his packed cell volume, PCV, was low and that he must be transfused that same night as at 12 midnight of 1st, April 2017.”
Although, Chibueze looked better the next morning after he was transfused but he had lost strength to walk despite the transfusion.
His mother felt his condition was like going from bad to worse. “The transfusion worsened it, the medical doctors confessed they had never seen that kind of sickness before. While on admission, they treated typhoid fever and malaria for two weeks in that particular hospital, yet he couldn’t walk.”
Apparently, due to the treatment the nurses and the doctors felt Chibueze had benn well cared for, and at a stage they felt he was pretending. Chidimma was certain her son was not pretending.
“I told them not to say that because I knew my son, he would not pretend. The nurse had to call another specialist to come and check what kind of sickness it was, but the doctor also said he had never seen such. We stayed a month in that hospital before we got a referral to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, in Ikeja. I was thinking it was just something the doctor would prescribe medications and we would go, but we were admitted that night – 1st June 2017. The search for solution continued.
“Immediately, he was transfused again with two pints of blood and drips. We were even asked to go for x-ray which we did and the result came out and the doctor said they are suspecting a mass around his kidney.
“Eventually we were asked to run a cancer test and they said it was cancer of the blood.”
Just like every other parent, Chidimma was eager to know what could be done to save her son.
“I asked what the cure could possibly be, and they said chemotherapy. I asked for the cost and they prepared a list for me which totalled about N77,000 and it would be for every week. I had already spent all the money I had moveing from one hospital to the other.
“I was left with just N80,000 in my account. I went to my church for assistance and they gave me N400.000 to run the chemotherapy. I needed to run the therapy for 10 months. We started in August 2017 and ended in June 2018.”
At this point, Chidmma, who was a yam seller, began running from pillar to post to ensure her son survived the cancer.
“I must say thank you to the founder of Timilehin Leukaemia Foundation, Mrs Janet Modupe Oyedele who assisted all through the trying time. I was in LASUTH sometime in October 2017 when a lady walked in and said to me, Madam, the nurse said your boy has leukaemia, what can I do for you?
“I told her there was nothing she could do for me only to assist whenever it’s time for the chemotherapy. Immediately she gave me N10.000 and promised me whenever it was time to run the chemotherapy test, she’d help. The chemotherapy was going on, so she travelled and we began to run another test that same month but I could nopt reaise the complete cost, so I had to call her. She was in UK, but she picked the call and from the UK she sent another N10.000. With that, we were able to run the chemotherapy test. After that, I was told my baby was okay.”
According to Chidimma, on completion of the chemotherapy, Chibueze regained himself but he could still not walk.
He was assigned a physiotherapist, who carried out a few therapies on his legs. “We were discharged on 3rd of November 2017 and asked to return every week for the chemotherapy and physiotherapy.”
However, Chibueze, sometime in February 2018, began to emaciate. His tummy began to swell.
“He was supposed to take the last chemotherapy in April. the doctors gave me a list of things to buy, Mrs Oyedele again gave me N15.000 with which I ran to the pharmacy to get some emergency drips which they gave to stabilize him.
We returned to the hospital after two weeks, and the doctor said they could not do any chemotherapy on the child as it was very dangerous but they prescribed a drug.
“I went to Alpha Pharmacy in Ogba to ask for the drugs. I was told it was N550.000 for one of the injections; I called Mrs Oyedele and told her but she said she didn’t have such amount but we should hope in God. The doctors suggested we go for bone marrow transfusion so they discharged me and said she should work on the money.
“I am still pained by what one of the doctors did. My child told me that while I went for the drug one of the doctors came to him and said she is sorry, that they’ve tried all they could. We spent over N2 million. I saw my son suffering. He was like an Egyptian mummy.