She went to donate blood – and returned with a diagnosis of sickle cell anaemia

Mrs. Veronica Nwuli Ajagbonna, 68
During the Nigerian Civil War, she found herself separated from members of her immediate family; some were caught up on the Biafran side, where hunger led infants and children to emaciation and slow, certain death.

For all of her 68 years, and counting, Mrs. Veronica Nwuli Ajagbonna, born November 30, 1951, can count on her fingers how many episodes of severe bone pain crises she ever had.

‘Mine was always more of hemolytic than vaso-occlusive crises,’ Mrs. Ajagbonna says.

A medical laboratory scientist with interest in hematology and blood transfusion, Mrs. Ajagbonna sure knows what she is talking about. From the onset, SCD did not actually spin its signature on her physique, apart from a tendency to be tired and to have a tinge – just a tinge – of yellow in her eyes. On their own, those two features would have alerted any savvy medical student to what was going on within. In the 1950s and 60s, when Veronica was growing up, no one thought anything of such things.

Anyway, even a proper diagnosis would not have excused her from the rigour of domestic duties as she was just the second of two girls born to family of seven. All the boys were older than her.

‘You just don’t ask an older brother to share chores with you!’

Diagnosis With SCD

‘Mine was more of hemolytic crises’

Diagnosis with sickle cell anaemia came by chance. As an adolescent, Veronica had gone to make voluntary blood donation when perfunctory screening tests indicated she was not good to donate! Her blood level was way too low – so low, in fact, that had she not been a ‘warrior’, she would have been transfused there and then.

Veronica seems to have an inborn defence against the worse manifestations of SCD. During the Nigerian Civil War, she found herself separated from members of her immediate family; some were caught up on the Biafran side, where hunger led infants and children to emaciation and slow, certain death. She was on the Federal side of the war and, with the help of Good Samaritans, she survived. It was that experience which taught her that good nutrition was crucial to health.

One of the few serious pain crises Veronica ever experienced was when she was working at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital. She had excruciating pain in her ribs and wrists. And while some with sickle cell have regular or occasional blood transfusion, she has been transfused just thrice in her life as a direct result of SCD.

A Masters degree holder in Parasitology, Veronica advocates for comprehensive counseling of at-risk couples before marriage.

Good Samaritans helped me survive the Nigerian Civil War

Mrs. Veronica Ajagbonna is one fulfilled grandma and sickle cell warrior. A retired civil servant, she last worked with the Federal Institute of Trypasonomiases Research, Vom, Plateau State.

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