As Onah Onyebuchi battles through 16 years of spinal cord injury, Martins Ifijeh calls on the public to heed his cry for help
While many Nigerian youths in their 30s are already raising their children and meeting other life’s obligations, Onah Onyebuchi, a 36-year-old man has been sitting in one spot for the past 16 years due to spinal cord injury. His body is fixated as his nerves and other sensory organs are no longer responding to stimulus the way they should. All he does everyday is hope someone comes around to assist in washing off his faeces and urine, and help in wearing him cleaner clothes and then hope one day life will smile on him and he’ll walk again.
His trouble started July 5th 1999 while in SS1 in Ovoko Boys Secondary School in Okpaligbo-ogu community in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State. He had gone that faithful sunny afternoon to tap palm wine somewhere in his neighborhood in order to make money by selling it off to buyers due to the excruciating poverty in his family and his determination to finance his own education nevertheless, but he lost his balance on top of the palm tree and fell to the ground horribly, injuring his spinal cord. Since then his limbs and back are not the only casualty, his hopes and aspirations have also been severed.
Going down memory lane and giving an account of how it all happened, Onah told THISDAY that while he was growing up, his family was very poor, feeding or clothing was a big problem not to talk of going to school, but quite early in his life, he told himself he was going to be a medical doctor who would bail his family out of the darkness they were living in, hence his determination to look for means to pay his school fees and enroll for the secondary school leaving certificate when he gets to SS 2.
“Even at a tender age, I was involved in tapping palm wine which I sell off to put food on the table of my parents, as well as finance my education. It was in the process of my struggle to acquire that education and make my parents happy that this problem occurred and shattered my dreams and vision. I was in SSS1 then, at Ovoko Boys Secondary School. It was during the famous 1999 nationwide strike by secondary school teachers, barely a month-plus into when former President Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn-in as the country’s Commander-in-Chief,’’ he narrated to THISDAY.
Onah, after the unfortunate incident, continued to watch his peers grow into the men and women they once talked about while in secondary school. But for him, nothing had moved ever since then, not his limps not to talk of career and aspirations in life. Everyday turned into another day of lamentation on what has befallen him. He daily imagined how many lives he would have saved as a medical doctor if not for the injury.
Even though he often felt like jumping out of his customised chair to push through life’s struggle, his body would not let him. His limitations were too mechanical for him, to the point that he would need an assistance before he could put off his clothes and wear cleaner ones.
“As my condition is presently, I cannot do anything without an assistance. To dress and undress is a big problem. I cannot take my bath without someone assisting me. This is not the life I planned for myself. I feel pity for everyone around me because at a tender age, I was like the light in the house. Everyone thought I was brilliant and focused. Little did I know I will turn out to be a burden on them,” he narrated.
To compound his woes, his parents who used to assist him in doing everything since the tragic accident can no longer do it. He lost his father three years ago, while his aged mother no longer has the strength to help him through feeding, defecating, bathing, among others.
“My pain grows every time I remember that without my mother I am as good as dead. At this point, I should be the one helping her by lifting her to her chair or giving her my hand to hold as support while walking, but the reverse is the case. Even in her weakness, she still try to raise me up, put me in bed, feed and bathe me. I don’t know how much longer she can continue with this because she is growing older and weaker by the day,” Onah explained.
All through this trying period, Onah didn’t leave everything to providence, he believed he could still walk again and be the man he once dreamed of. His parents had taken him to various healthcare facilities, as well as traditional homes. Until recently, they continued to move from one hospital to the other, praying hope and luck shines on him. He believed one day he will walk again, sit for secondary school leaving certificate exams, write jamb and study medicine, even if at age 50.
According to him, he was admitted at the University of Nsukka Teaching Hospital (UNTH) under the consultancy of Dr. Onwuasoigwe, “but my admission was shortlived due to inability of my relations to foot the medical bills. We were first asked to do a scan but my people could not afford it, so the hospital discharged me since I couldn’t foot the bills.”
As someone determined to find a solution to his problem even though it has held him for more than a decade and half, Onah, two years ago, visited the Primus International Hospital in Abuja where he was told he could perfectly walk again with all his limbs and spinal cord functioning at optimal capacity. But like several other hospitals visited, he was told it would cost him N5m. “I know on my own I won’t be able to get this money even if am given 100 years to look for it,” he said. His hope was dashed again as he left Abuja.
“We tried several other places until we landed in the home of a traditional bonesetter who promised to take a relatively smaller amount than what the hospitals were charging. But that was even my biggest undoing; at the bonesetter’s home, I developed serious complications in my spine and limbs, making the situation even more worst,” he added.
Onah, despite his condition, spoke to THISDAY with confidence about life and the fact that he could walk again. The illness that has held him back for approximately 5,640 days has not broken him mentally. He has not resigned to fate or believed he will never walk again or make it in life, or still be the light his family once wished he’ll be.
Unlike some persons whose long sufferings due to sickness must have led them to resign to fate, Onah is always on the internet looking for solutions to his problems. He is in touch with social media and still feels he must not be left behind since he’ll have to bounce back to life anytime fate smiles on him.
He believes with the support of well meaning Nigerians, government, stakeholders, hospitals and philanthropic organisations, he can still walk again and live the life of his dream.
For those who would like to be that shinning light for him through sponsorship of his treatment or other supports geared towards putting Onah back on his feet, he can be reached on 07082066071 and 09025083957.
While Onah’s story is heartbreaking and depicts pity that should spur Nigeria and Nigerians to save him from the pain, the story is one which should not be told by the media before Onah gets a solution to his problem. If it were in United States and United Kingdom, Onah would not wait for 16 years before the National Health Scheme foot the bill. He won’t have to suffer 16 years all because he is poor and unable to access healthcare. He won’t have to solicit for N5m to be able to walk again.
Onah is not the only one going through this mystery, millions of poor Nigerians are suffering from one form of health challenge or the other because healthcare in Nigeria is still done through out-of-pocket. In fact, Onah is lucky to still be beaming with hope, several others have died of neglect and inability to afford healthcare.
When will Nigeria, which prides itself as the giant of Africa and the biggest economy in the continent spare Nigerians, especially the poor ones from paying for healthcare? Giving healthcare to Nigerians is part of delivering democracy dividends, and we hope one day the dividends of democracy will be enjoyed by all, especially when it relates to healthcare.