Mrs Taiwo Olapeju a nurse of repute. Shares her experiance as a sickle cell disorder patient from childhood in this interview.
Please introduce yourself
I am Mrs. Taiwo Olapeju. I was born on January 3rd 1970 to a famous and rich polygamous family from Ilesha, precisely the family of Chief S.O. Olaitan and Mrs. F.I. Olaitan of 1,Olaitan Avenue, Imo-Ilesha.
Please tell us a bit about your family. How many siblings do you have and what number are you?
My mummy is the youngest wife and I am the first born of a family of 5 on my mummy’s side. My father was blessed with 70 children and I am the only one with sickle cell anaemia (HbSS).
Waoh! Did you say 70 children? How many wives did he have?
He had many wives. As I said earlier, ours was a large and popular polygamous family.
Quite a large family indeed! When did you get to know your Hb SS status?
We discovered my status when I was 3 years old. I could neither walk nor stand on my legs. So I was taken to Wesley Guild Hospital, Ilesha. An X-ray was taken but nothing wrong was found. Then one of the expatriate doctors ordered for Hb genotype test. The result showed I haveHb SS.
My father lost a number of children and they were classified as “abiku”, which means children born only to die very young. Looking back, I can only suspect that several of them had sickle cell disorder (SCD), which caused their deaths.
Let us talk about your early life and education.
I attended Ilesha Local Authority School, Imo-Ilesha between 1975 and 1981 after which I proceeded to Babalola Memorial Girls’ Grammar School and was a pupil there from 1981 to 1986. From there I went to Our Lady Catholic Hospital, Oluyoro, Oke Offa, Ibadan, for a Midwifery course and later to Osun State School of Nursing for a General Nursing course. I had my Family Planning training at the University College Hospital, Ibadan. Presently I am close to completing my BSc. in Nursing at the National Open University, Victoria Island Branch, Lagos.
Why did you decide to go into the Nursing profession?
From a young age, my first contacts during hospital visits, whether it was for a routine medical follow up or during a crisis, were always nurses. I loved their sparkling white uniforms and caps as well as their subtle and caring attitudes. They would always reassure me and make me feel at ease before calling a doctor to attend to me. I made up my mind that I also wanted to be a nurse, to care for the sick and especially those with SCD.
Interesting! What were the challenges you faced in your early life and going through school?
I was always on and off hospital admission and frequently absent from school. Despite that, I never repeated any class. I faced a lot of stigmatisation in the family. It is not something pleasant to be sickly in a large family. When I was much younger, I often wondered why, among all my siblings and friends, I should be the only one with SCD. I often felt depressed.
I remember some of my half siblings always made jest of me singing,
“Yellow fever nko? E dey”. I became suicidal and often did what I was not supposed to do in the hope that death would take me, as fast as possible.
But death refused to come and you are very much alive today! How did you cope with these challenges?
My parents were wonderful. My father was always ready to take me to Wesley Guild Hospital any time I fell sick and my mummy was always at hand, very supportive. I experienced osteomyelitis in my left leg and was on admission for months at Wesley Guild Hospital. When I wasn’t improving, my father signed a discharge against medical advice and took me to UCH, Ibadan where the wound finally got healed. I almost lost a year in school. Fortunately, I still got promoted to the next class, based on my past results.
After secondary school, I entered the School of Midwifery. My lackadaisical attitude towards my health landed me in hospital during the first few months. I had to be transfused with 2 pints of blood. The matron in charge had to ask my old father to sign an undertaking that I would take good care of myself and that, if I should be sick within a short period of time due to my negligence, I would be dismissed.
I did not want that. So I had to sit up and decide what I wanted for my life. And that was the turning point for me. From that moment I made up my mind and decided that I wanted to live!!!
I want to live!
I want to be a role model!
I want to be among the best of people with SCD!
That inner will and urge really helped me. I was blessed with the best daddy the world could produce. He is now, sadly, of blessed memory, but my mummy is still very much alive.
After my nursing education, I had a disappointment over there in Osun State so I had to come down to Lagos to start over.
What was the disappointment? Would you like to share that with us?
Uhmnn disappointments! I can remember three vividly. One ran away as soon as he got to know my status. Another one lied that he was AS whereas he was AA. I felt disappointed and that was why I made up my mind not to get married.
What happened after your arrival in Lagos?
A few months after getting to Lagos, I experienced another attack of osteomyelitis in the same leg. This time it was the thigh. The first time, it was below the kneein my tibia bone. Fortunately, with my positive mind-set, and being a qualified nurse, it healed up faster than the first time.
I first worked in a private hospital and later got employed by the Lagos State Government in 2003. I am now one of the Chief Nursing Officers at the Occupational Health Department of Folarin Coker Staff Clinic, Alausa Secretariat, Ikeja.
Can you tell us how you met your husband and were there any challenges on account of your Hb SS status?
I met my husband by chance. It was never planned. It is just the way the Lord wanted it. Honestly, I had made up my mind not to get married.
I had heard some negative stories and experienced a few disappointments. I just felt I would just get pregnant and give birth and enjoy the rest of my life. But The Lord changed my story for me.
Did you have to check his Hb status and what was the attitude of his parents and relations towards you?
No we didn’t. Right from the onset he used to sing it to me that he is AA, that he can marry anybody. I believed him. My mother in-law is a Sierra Leonean and a qualified nurse too; she was indifferent about it. She just said she would continue to pray for us and wished us all the best. She is very caring and supportive – the best mother in-law any girl could wish for. My father in-law also had no issues with us getting married. To the best of my knowledge, the entire family was quite happy with our relationship.
We know you have been blessed with children. Please tell us how many and what were the challenges you had to face during pregnancies.
With my mind-set and positivity, I was able to experience every phase peacefully. I got pregnant and, from day one, there were no hitches. I always had well balanced diets. I knew I was eating for 2 and I made sure I always had enough rest and never missed my clinic appointments. I used my drugs diligently and I was very positive that all would be well.
That was very smart! Please go on.
I had my first in 2001, a boy. It was a normal delivery. We had been preparing for a caesarean delivery and the theatre was almost set. However I miraculously delivered on the bed in the ward. My second, a girl, came in 2006 but this time by Caesarean operation.
I experienced a placenta praevia. I thank God that I have been blessed with two beautiful souls at my beck and call. I did have blood transfusions for the two deliveries but that has been my last blood transfusion and hospital admission, to the glory of my Lord. I spaced them well enough to allow for full recuperation.
What is the genotype of your children?
Thankfully, both my children are Hb AS.
Do you have any hobbies and what are they?
I will not say I have any specific hobby. However, I have listening ears and I’m always ready and have the patience to listen to people without getting tired.I enjoy reading my books and any valuable book around. I also enjoy cooking. I can spend hours cooking in a kitchen.
What advice would you give to other affected persons?
We should all think more of spiritual awakening and recognition. The physical aspect of it matters. We need to take good care of ourselves. One should register at a Government haematology clinic to be seen by a haematologist regularly. Use drugs as prescribed. Eat well. Drink water as if our life depends on it. Set mission and vision for ourselves to be a role model and give a good interpretation of it.
We need to recognise our limits. This is critical. A careless 5 minutes could cost us a lot and even our life. You must study yourself and know your system. Do not rebel against it or else it can get worse. Get rid of the “Why me?” mentality. Accept your situation joyfully and think positively. Whatever people with Hb AA are doing we should be better at it. Be diligent in your workplace, such that, they won’t even notice your shortcomings.
We should show genuine love towards each other. Be a shoulder to lean and cry on for each other. Life will be better for us. If you are not meant to experience it you won’t. Lives differ. Make the best of it. We should not be calculating. We should not play God. We should express true self love. It is when you love yourself that you will take care of yourself. We should accept it joyfully and set a mission. I can tell the whole world that I have SCD. In fact, I am proud to be one, and I am absolutely unapologetic about it.