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After Saturday PUNCH report, boy given five months to live survives

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Jesusegun Alagbe

On a recent sunny afternoon, the smile on her face was priceless and infectious. Her face was lit with an indescribable happiness and energy that had evaded her since 2010.

It was a sharp contrast to her looks in May when our correspondent met with her. Then, her face was moody. She could barely utter a word. She staggered when she walked, as she clutched her eight-year-old son to her chest.

Blessing Okonkwo’s eyes were laden with tears as she later put her son, Uche, down on a chair. The boy was breathing heavily and his lips were bluish. She was scared.

She had noticed an abnormality with his breathing pattern in 2011, a year after he was born. Uche was breathing at a fast pace and after he was taken to a hospital, he was diagnosed with a hole in the heart.

He was placed on medication, morning, afternoon and night. At times, he was admitted to hospital for two or three weeks – until someday in 2016 when Blessing’s boss, whom she worked for as a cook in Lagos, advised that the boy be taken to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital for proper diagnosis and treatment.

A medical report signed by the Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, LASUTH, Dr. B.A. Animasahun, stated that Uche had barely five months to live and required urgent surgical intervention.

“A diagnosis of bronchopneumonia in a child with a cyanotic congenital heart disease possibly tetralogy of fallot was made. Chest radiograph showed cardiomegaly with bronchopneumonic changes while an echocardiography confirmed tetralogy of fallot. He requires surgical intervention,” the report had stated.

However, for the (thoracic) surgery to take place, Uche was required to be flown to an Indian hospital at Chennai. The surgery was estimated to cost $14,000 (N5m), a sum Blessing and her driver husband could not afford to raise.

She had thereafter sought Nigerians’ help to raise funds for Uche’s surgery in the Saturday PUNCH publication of May 26, 2018.

Uche before surgery

Through the report, the sum required for the surgery was raised and on July 25, Uche and his mother were flown to Chennai, India. The surgery was thereafter performed on July 27.

Thanking Saturday PUNCH and Nigerians for coming to Uche’s aid, Blessing said since returning to the country on August 5, her son had been doing things that he had never done before in his life.

She said, “Since the operation, he’s now okay, though doctors said he would fully recover within three months. Now he can talk, he chats a lot with me.

“At times he would be jumping up and down, dancing with his sisters. Sometimes I would be the one to caution him to slow down, reminding him that his body has yet to fully recover. Now he can also eat properly, unlike before when he struggled to eat.

“He is now energetic and full of life. I feel great. In fact, people now tell me that my looks have changed, that I feel more lively than ever before. That’s true. Now I eat, smile and dance, unlike before.”

Sharing her experience as she saw Uche being taken on a stretcher to the operating theatre at the Indian hospital, Blessing said, “When I was departing Nigeria for India, my expectation was high and I was hopeful that my son would be alright, although I also had fears.

“I was busy praying when he was taken into the operating theatre on a stretcher. I prayed, ‘God, please help my son.’ I couldn’t sleep throughout the surgery, which took place in the afternoon of July 27.

“Now that my son is fine, he will start schooling once he fully recovers and I know he shall be great in life.

“I thank Nigerians, Saturday PUNCH and my employer, the Osunniyis, whom God used a lot for me.”

Uche, who couldn’t utter a single word during an encounter with Saturday PUNCH in May, was likewise full of life when our correspondent caught up with the family recently.

“I am happy because I feel better now. I am okay. I have no pain again in my body. I now like dancing with my sisters,” the eight-year-old said, donning a pair of sunglasses and a cap.

“I want to become a pastor so I can share my story with people when I grow up,” he added.

Blessing’s employer, Mr Kola Osuuniyi, who spoke to our correspondent following Uche’s successful surgery, also thanked Nigerians and Saturday PUNCH for coming to the boy’s rescue.

He said, “I feel happy for the Okonkwos and especially for Uche, who is now bubbling with life. For the boy, I know that soon he would be able to start doing all the things he couldn’t do before.

“I feel very great seeing how Uche’s life has turned around. Before we came to the PUNCH Newspaper to solicit Nigerians’ help for him to travel out, the mother was told to go to different churches to seek healing. But I was disturbed when I heard that, not that I don’t believe in God, but I felt it just wasn’t the most appropriate solution at the time.

“The boy had barely five months to live then. I know God heals, but he has also given wisdom to medical doctors to treat diseases. So immediately I called a medical doctor friend who told Uche’s mother the implication of going to any church’s camp and waiting a long time for a pastor to pray for her son.

“The doctor said the boy could even be infected and that could terminate his life quickly because he would have been sleeping in an open place, no bed, no warmth, nothing. His condition would have been worse.

“At that time, my wife and I saw that the boy’s mother was hopeless and helpless and we trusted in God to provide funds for Uche’s surgery.

“It was a long journey. We went to different non-governmental organisations for help, but there were too many people on their lists, and time was ticking.”

Osunniyi, who stated that Uche’s surgery couldn’t have been conducted in less than five hours from the medical report, said, “At Chennai in India, it took a lot of medical investigations before the surgery could take place. His condition was rare, as his intestine was said to be passing through the chest.

“It took four surgeons and an anaesthetist to perform the surgery. We were busy praying at home for Uche too, alongside the mother. From the report, the surgery took nothing less than five hours.

“The PUNCH Newspaper has been really supportive in humanitarian projects. We had gone to a newspaper before we came to PUNCH. As soon as Saturday PUNCH published the story, the mileage was great and we thank Nigerians who rose up to rescue Uche.”

Pressures for women to freeze their eggs occur within a broader social context that strongly pushes women to become mothers. Egg freezing as a way of preserving women’s reproductive options reinforces the social norms and expectations that construe motherhood as a central aspect of womanhood. Women are encouraged to freeze their eggs as a way to “have it all” (that is, to have both a family and a career), implying that for those women who want both these things, egg freezing makes this possible.

For women who want genetically related children and who wish to avoid the difficulties associated with infertility, the pressure to use egg freezing could unduly place reproductive responsibilities on them and obscure the influence of social structures that can contribute to delayed childbearing in the first place.

In light of controversy, women need to be enabled to access accurate and balanced information about their reproductive health. Discussions may be framed in within broader context of reproductive health and family-making to assist women in making informed choices.

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