“my dream is to become a career ambassador for Nigeria” Sickle Cell Survivor Speaks

22 year old Muhammad Lawal who is a 300 level student of Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Niger State narrates how his health condition(Sickle cell) has threatened his ambitions and aspirations in life.

In an interview with TEMITOPE ADETUNJI from Punch, he speaks on his challenges.

Is it true you have been out of school for two years due to a medical condition. How true is that?

Yes, it is very true. It’s been two years since I stopped going to school. I am 22 years old. I am from Niger State. I am a student at Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University and was in my third year studying International Relations and History.

Tell us about your condition.

After the two-week strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities that happened before the lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, I returned home from school for the holidays. That was when my sickle cell crisis started. As a sickle cell survivor, my crisis was triggered. I went to hospitals and ever since then I have been having intense pains. At the hospital, I was advised to go for surgery at an orthopaedic hospital in Kano. I had to put my academic study on hold.

How else has your health condition affected you?

It has affected me the most in terms of my education. I couldn’t go back to school when the crisis became more serious.

Can you describe the pain that comes with sickle cell anemia?

Describing the pain that comes with sickle cell anemia is difficult because, honestly, no one can explain the terrible feeling but I will describe it as intense pain. The pain is severe. It comes mostly from the waist, joints, and legs.

What about your parents?

My mum is alive but my dad died in 2015. He was a medical practitioner before he died. He used to give us the utmost care before he died. My mum is a businesswoman and housewife.

What form of support do your mother and siblings give to you?

I am the third child of my mother’s five children. I am the only one affected by sickle cell anemia. My mum and my siblings have been very supportive of me. They take care of my bills most of the time. I also have step-siblings who have been supportive too.

Did any of your parents feel they were to blame for what you are going through? What did they say?

Well, I will not put any blame on them even though my dad was a medical practitioner. I will see it as what was destined by God.

What will you say is the biggest thing your condition has taken away from you?

My condition has taken so many things away from me since I have been out of school. Before it became so worse, I was still trying to go to school. I wanted to pursue my dream of becoming successful in life and putting a smile on my mum’s face. But now, I can’t engage in social activities like sports and others. I am mostly indoors. Some of my friends would even say I behave like a lady who doesn’t want to come outside and play with friends. I wanted to become a doctor as a child but due to how stressful my condition was, I had to make a U-turn.

Do you think your condition has taught you anything about people or true friendship?

Well, it has gained me more friendships to some extent, though at a point, it took away friends from me. However, when they came and checked on me, they realised they needed to show love. Not all my friends are still my friends. Some have abandoned me. There are even times I would try reaching out to them and some wouldn’t pick up my calls. Sometimes, I feel bad and see it as life. All I do is ignore those feelings. But now, some of them are coming back to rekindle the friendship. That was after they saw my posts on how I have been seeking financial support and battling the crisis. So, I have lost friends but not all and I won’t say I lost them because I have sickle cell anemia. I lost some of my friends because I don’t have the strength to do lots of social activities that they are involved in, like football. I don’t go out anymore because my bones are too weak.

What is the most painful thing anyone has done to discriminate against you?

I will not say discrimination per se but I remembered when I showed my interest in going to school abroad before the crisis became this terrible. My mum stopped me. I applied for a scholarship, a Federal Government scholarship to study in Romania.

Why did she stop you?

My mum stopped me because of my health issues. There was also a time I wanted to go back to school with my condition, but my family stopped me from going stating that I can’t go to school with the condition.

How did you cope with pain during the crisis while you were at school?

To be sincere, it wasn’t easy and it has not been easy. Sometimes, when the crisis started, I would leave the school premises and go back home and I would be admitted for some days to the hospital. And after getting a bit better, I would go back to school. At some point, I almost skipped my exams for a particular semester. I prayed over it because I was extremely worried. Fortunately, the exam was postponed and I had already had a (sickle cell anaemia) crisis a week before. That was how I was able to take the exams.

What efforts have been taken to treat the condition?

My mum and my siblings are trying to bring me out of this situation. They’ve been supportive but the financial implication is too much for them to bear. They have spent a lot. Doctors are advising me to change my primary diagnosis so I can get better treatment in terms of going for another surgery that will correct the weak bones. They said if I didn’t do the surgery on time, it might lead to another health complication. We’ve been trying but we’ve not got enough of the financial support that is needed.

What did the doctors advise you to do?

I was advised to go for a bone marrow transplant.

How much has been spent so far to manage the condition and what did you spend the money on?

We have spent close to N8 million. We spent the money on my first surgery. The surgery was successful but due to my muscular malfunctions, I was asked to get two others done and I have been assured I will be fine after the surgery.

Were you told how much it will cost to fully treat your condition?

I was told it will cost about N83 million. Now I have been booked for two surgeries to repair my legs and have a bone marrow transplant to be able to realise my dreams.

What kind of support do you need?

All I need now is financial support from people who are capable of helping.

What’s your dream in life?

I can’t wait to negotiate deals for Nigeria as a career ambassador. My first dream was to become a medical doctor but my health challenges might not make me become one.


Punch Nigeria

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