Five individuals who survived getting infected with the Ebola virus on Thursday, September 18, 2014 visited Lagos state governor, Babatunde Fashola at his Alausa office in Ikeja, the Lagos state capital, recounting their ordeals.
Three of the survivors – Dr. Morris Ibeawuchi, Dr. Adaora Igonoh and Dr. Akinniyi Fadipe – are medical practitioners with First Consultants Medical Centre, Lagos where index case, Patrick Sawyer was first treated after coming into Nigeria from his native Liberia.
The two others were Dennis Echelonu, whose pregnant wife, Justina Echelonu died from the virus and Mrs. Kelechi Enemuo, whose husband had died from the disease in Port Harcourt, the Rivers state capital.
Dr. Ibeawuchi, while recounting his experience said he was the doctor who had received Sawyer when Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) officials brought him to First Consultants.
He said: “I was the person who received Patrick Sawyer the day he was rushed to First Consultants Medical Centre. It was like a joke, I did not know what came upon me that day. Unlike me, I was so reluctant to attend to him. But I was compelled by my colleagues to do so.
“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 sat there, kept quiet.
“I asked him why he was in First Consultants. He lied to me saying that he was at a conference and felt so weak. As a result, people now rushed him to First Consultants not knowing that he had collapsed at the airport. On that very day, the ECOWAS protocol officer was there and did not say anything.”
On his own part, Fadipe said there was pandemonium when Sawyer’s real condition was confirmed, but he kept telling himself he was safe, since he had only made contact with the door of Sawyer’s private ward.
Fadipe said: “By virtue of that, nothing should happen to me, I told myself. I never knew I was deceiving myself. Until the day I took my temperature and there was a kind of spike, and I asked myself what is going on. Since I had treated malaria a while ago, 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 so. Rather, it got worse and I started stooling and vomiting. So I summoned the courage and called the doctors at the monitoring units that my temperature had been persistently high.”
After telling the Lagos state ministry of health about his condition, he was told not to worry, as he would soon be picked up.
“In four hours, they came with ambulances. Before I knew it, I found myself at the isolation centre, Yaba.
“It all happened like a dream because I had read a lot about Ebola even while in school. We had learnt a lot of things on the haemorrhagic virus. How it wreaks direct havoc on human beings, bleeding and all that. You continue to bleed until you are dead, so I was devastated,” he added.
In the same vein, Echelonu detailed how his wife, who was two months pregnant died as a result of the virus after getting infected while treating Sawyer as a nurse.
He said: “My wife made contact with the index case. When she came back home, she told me. But we did not know what was happening because she was having symptoms and she was two months pregnant.
“She was feeling feverish. In fact, that was her first day on the job. It was her first day and her first patient was Sawyer. She just resumed that day. She was reluctant to resume her new job because of her condition, but I encouraged her to go to work.
“I had to convince her to go and tell them in the hospital about her condition so that they could give her more time to resume her new job. That was just the first day. When she came back, the following day she went to work again, then the next two days, she was off.”
Governor Fashola while addressing them called for a minute of silence for those who have died as a result of the virus, heaping praise on the survivors for their courage to come out publicly to share their ordeals regardless of possible public stigmatisation.
He stated: “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 survivors of 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 decision and you showed so much courage. And you have helped us to take the next step forward. You have helped us to put an end to the spread of the EVD.
“I am sure that from today, people, especially those who are victims wherever they maybe, will be encouraged to come forward and seek help. And that people who stigmatise them can change their approach.
“Sick people need help, care, love and affection. They did not need to be discriminated against. Perhaps many of those who stigmatise people with diseases will learn from the testimonies that you have given about people like Dr. David (the American WHO doctor who led the medical team at the Yaba isolation centre).
“He risked everything so that you all can be alive. That is the way we should behave as human beings. The truth is that this will not be the last infectious disease that human civilisation will experience. At one point, there was no cure for cholera, influenza and others.
“So in a global world, the list will not end. It is courageous men and women like Dr. David, organisations like the CDC (US Centre for Disease Control) and WHO, the Ministry of Health and health workers like you who must lead that charge to confront such diseases.”