Our ordeal, by Ebola survivors

THE NATION Newspaper- Miriam Ekene-Okoro

FOR about 30 minutes yesterday in Lagos, five of the nine survivors of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) took turns to recount their battle with the ailment.

They were guests of Governor Babatunde Fashola at the State House, Alausa, Ikeja.

They could hardly contain their emotions. Some fought back tears. Others sobbed. But in unison, the survivors were grateful to God for a second chance to live.

They were mostly doctors with First Consultant Hospital in Lagos, where the index case was first recorded.

The doctors explained that they thought they were dealing with just another patient when the Liberia- American Patrick Sawyer was wheeled into the hospital on July 20.

ut to their chagrin, as the days rolled by after Sawyer’s demise, they discovered they had the deadly EVD to contend with as many of them were already infected with the virus.

Before the meeting began, few of the survivors felt intimidated by the cameras and walked out of the room to escape the prying eyes of reporters. But those who stayed back buried their heads in reflective moods.

But their confidence seemed to have been buoyed when at about 5:40p.m, Fashola walked in.

With a brief introduction, Commissioner for Health Dr. Jide Idris said the essence of bringing the survivors to share their experience was to help eradicate stigmatisation, which they were contending with.

The stories of the survivors below were revealing:

Dr. Adaora Igonoh: we risked our lives for Nigeria

Dr. Igonoh, who was one of the doctors who attended to Sawyer, was the first person to recount her experience. She described yesterday as a “glorious day”.

“It’s a day of joy. I want to say that we are here today because of God. We survived. We are privileged to see this day, to be here with everybody; it’s an honour.

“We at First Consultants Medical Centre took a risk. We risked our lives because we knew that we wanted to ensure the safety of Lagosians, Nigerians and humanity; because we are a global village. From a small village, it can spread to the world and we knew the implications. But we said we would risk our lives and we would not let the index case leave the hospital.

“We remember the people that we lost; the wonderful people who risked their lives and we say that we would never forget them. We can’t. Our lives have been changed; every one of us who went through this ordeal, we know that we are better for it. Everything happened for a reason and we must find out the purpose and the reason why we went through what we went.

“We want to say thank you very much to the Lagos State, the Ministry of Health, the Federal Ministry of Health and the Centre for Disease Control. I was a full witness to the efforts to contain the virus.

“In fact, there was a time I asked for chicken and chips at the isolation centre, and it was brought. I was surprised. I asked because I wanted to see if they would honour my request and they brought the chicken and chips to me. I was amazed. Thank you so much. Thank you for coming to our houses to decontaminate them, saving our families who were with us at the early part of the disease when we didn’t even know we were infected,” she explained.

After she narrated her story, her confidence rubbed off on others who were earlier reluctant to speak.

Dr. Fadipe Akinniyi: I only opened the door for Sawyer

Dr. Akinniyi is another doctor at the First Consultants Hospital. He said he was amazed that he came down with the virus. He revealed that the only contact he had with the index case was opening the door leading to his ward.

His words: “I am most happy here today because as matter of fact, when everyone was running helter-skelter, I told myself : ‘I only opened the door and by the virtue of that, nothing should happen to me.’ I never knew I was deceiving myself, until the day I recorded my temperature and there was a kind of spike. And I asked myself , ‘what is going on.’

“I once treated malaria a while ago and I told myself that it could be malaria. I used anti-malaria drugs, but nothing changed. Rather, it was getting worse. Eventually, I went to a private hospital to treat myself because I did not want to admit it was Ebola. I felt they would be able to proffer solutions to all my problems, but it wasn’t to be. Rather, it was becoming terrible and I started stooling and vomiting.

“I summoned the courage and called the doctors at the monitoring units that my temperature has been persistently high. They told me not to worry that they would come to pick me up. In another four hours, they came with ambulances and before I knew it, I found myself at Yaba Isolation Centre. It all happened like a dream, because I have read a lot about Ebola even while in schools. We had a lot of things on hemorrhagic virus, how it wreck direct havoc on human beings, bleeding and all that.

“You continue to bleed until you are dead. I was very devastated, but I kept the faith. I remember Dr. Adesina telling me when we got there that I would leave this place. That no matter what happened, I would leave this place. She said people still survive the virus and that I should not mind that I would survive the disease. So, I kept my faith and with the help of God. I am very grateful to Dr. David, who was the initial doctor who attended to us before our doctors who were on strike finally emerged. I was very happy to reunite with my family and everything changed back to normal”.

Dr. Morris Ibeawuchi: I was forced to attend to Sawyer

Another doctor at the Hospital, Morris Ibeawuchi took time to recount his dramatic ordeal.

He was forced by one of his colleagues to attend to the late Liberian-American the day he was wheeled to the hospital.

He said: “I was the person that received Patrick Sawyer the day he was rushed to First Consultant Medical Centre. It was like a joke. I did not know what came upon that day. Unlike me, I was so reluctant to attend to him. But I was compelled by my colleagues to attend to him.

“When I got there, I was just talking to him. It was very unlike me. Being a doctor, you must examine your patient. After due examination, I asked him some questions. But Patrick Sawyer lied to me. Even the ECOWAS Protocol Officer, who saw him to the hospital, kept quiet. I asked him why he was in First Consultant. He lied to me that he was in a conference and felt so weak and as a result, people now rushed him to the First Consultant. I didn’t know that he collapsed at the airport. After sometime, I took his samples and sent it to the lab.

“I also informed Dr. Adadevoh (now of blessed memory). She told me to get back to her as soon as the result is out. When the result came out, everything was normal. But that night, the liver function test was not available. I told Dr. Adadevoh about MP result, and she was so confused and shivering because the man came in with a temperature of 39.7.

“She said I should just admit him. We treated him. We commenced with the malaria treatment. The next morning, Dr. Adadevoh came around and we all went there. At that time, the liver function test was already out and the result was so terrible. That made us to be so concerned. After we went around, Dr. Adadevoh went for her daily clinic. It was at that point that one of the ECOWAS officers now came in and brought us information that Patrick Sawyer collapsed at the airport. After that, she asked whether I got the information. That was how the whole thing started.

“From there, we instituted barrier nursing technique. She tried as much as possible to get through to the Lagos State Ministry of Health. Again, I was asked to take Sawyer’s sample. Since I had already had contact, I was the person that always took his samples. Before I went there, It took me hours. But I summoned courage to do my duties. So, I went there. When Sawyer was trying to explain, I asked him to hold his peace and should not tell me anything. After that, I took samples and dropped it at the blood unit. The next day, Dr. Adadevoh was so busy. She was just going from one place to the other, working hand in hand with the Lagos State Ministry of Health. She called me later in the evening and told to be careful. She said she just got a call that the result of the test showed the feature of Ebola Virus Disease. She warned me to be careful and that Sawyer should be treated as the case of Ebola, not even the suspected case of Ebola. We placed him under surveillance. But Sawyer died. But on the twelfth day, it was very terrible.

“My temperature is always 36. But that same fateful day, I checked my temperature and it was 37.7. I felt the whole world was against me. I was down with fever and became so weak. I lost my appetite. At that moment, I needed some people to talk to. I left my house, and in that house, I have my brother, his wife and the two kids. When I developed the symptoms, I was so bothered about my family members. I had to put a call to the Lagos State Ministry of Health. The ministry asked me not to make contact with my family and so on. At that time, I was still thinking it was malaria. I took anti-malaria drugs and nothing changed. The rate at which my temperature rose was screaming. At the first check, my temperature was 37.7. It rose to 38. The highest I measured was 41.

“The health ministry came and decontaminated the whole house. When I was at the isolation centre, the Lagos Ministry of Health attended to me. I was stooling and vomiting. I even became weaker. There was a night I thought my existence on this earth had ended. At that point, Dr. David was the only doctor attending to us. He tried a lot to secure my life. He had to rehydrate me. After that, they left me to my fate. That was around 9p.m. How I made it that night was miraculous to me. I know the hand of God was upon my life. Dr. David came the next morning. As he was leaving the night before, I was gasping and found it difficult to breathe. When he came back that morning, he was dumbfounded. After about few minutes, he told me that my condition was so bad that he did not know that I was going to make it. He thought he would meet my lifeless body at the isolation centre.

“But I am alive today to the glory of God.”

Dennis Echelonu: God took my wife and saved me

Echelonu, another survivor was fortunate, but lost his wife, Justina Echelonu Obioma. Justina was one of nurses who attended to Sawyer at the First Consultant Hospital.

His story: “She got contact with the index case and when she came back home, she told me. We didn’t know what was happening because she was having symptoms. She was two months pregnant. She was feeling feverish. In fact, that was her first day on the job and her first patient was Patrick Sawyer.

“She just resumed that day. I encouraged her to go to work, but she was reluctant because of her situation. I had to convince her to go and tell them in the hospital about her condition so that they can give her more time.

“When she came back the following day, she went to work again. Then the next two days, she was off. We were just at home when the Sawyer’s case was announced and she told me that she cared for him at the Hospital. I asked her if she was sure about what she said, because we have been hearing about it.

“I asked her what kind of contact she had with him. She said she used protective gloves. Hearing that, I felt rest assured. In fact, she came to the house and was thanking God that she used gloves. She was just praying and then the fever persisted and didn’t go down. But because of the assurance that she gave me, I felt okay. I said maybe the fever was pregnancy induced; but it didn’t stop. Fever in the morning and night and the highest temperature she got was 41. She called her gynaecologist because she was being conscious of what she could take and what she would not take.

“The response at the Infectious Disease Hospital was okay. At that point, I was so careful. I trusted God for her, but at a point, she gave up on herself and she died later.

“I finally found myself as a suspected case and after being a suspected case for a while, I was praying continuous and I guess my prayer worked for me. People stood by us, but it wasn’t easy. I felt weakness in my waist, muscles and ankle.

“My being alive today, even though I lost someone, God knows why and has a reason for everything. I just want to bless God and everybody who stood by us. Dr. David especially, who did a lot of work on Justina.”

Dr. Kelechi Enemuo: God saved me and my baby

Dr. Kelechi Enemuo, wife of the late doctor, Dr. Iyke Enemuo who treated the Nigeria Diplomat in Port Harcourt fought back tears as she spoke for a few minutes.

“I just want to thank God for keeping me and my baby. And to my husband, I say may he rest in peace,” she said taciturnly.

Some members of the State Executive Council, who were also present, were caught in the emotions as they listened with rapt attention to the testimonies of the survivors.

Fashola: Your testimonies will end stigmatisation

Fashola, after listening to their ordeal, said: “We sympathise with you for the trauma that you went though. Perhaps it was avoidable. But I am sure that hard lessons have been learnt.

“Beyond that, I must congratulate you the survivals of the EDV. I felicitate with you and members of your family and friends. But most importantly, I thank you so much for coming forward because you took a great thing and you showed so much courage.

And you have helped us to take next step forward. And you have helped us to put an end to the spread of the EVD. I am sure that from today, people watching and listening to you, especially those that are victims wherever they maybe, will be encourage to come forward and seek help.

“And that people who stigmatise can change their approach. Sick people need help, care, love and affection. They did not need to be discriminated. Perhaps many of those who stigmatise people with disease will learn from the testimonies that you have given about people like Dr. David. He risked everything so that you all can be alive.”


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