‘I didn’t pay a cent for my bone marrow transplant!’

Bisade Karunwi


By Tosin Fawemida and Ayoola Olajide


Bisade Karunwi, 33 has lived in two diametrically opposed worlds – the world of acute-on-chronic illness and that of heavenly good health.


For close to one year, Bisade’s life also straddled a world neither here nor there, while he transitioned from raving ill health, the result of sickle cell anaemia, to palpable good health – the outcome of a successful bone marrow transplant (BMT).b


There is perhaps no more dangerous period for someone waiting to be cured of sickle cell by BMT than that cliff-hanging period when the body has been forcefully purged of the signature of SCD but has not yet assumed the identity of the marrow donor.


‘I had no respite from severe tiredness for more than six months after my BMT in the United States,’ recalls Bisade, who now lives in Lagos. A Finance graduate, he works with Schubbs Nigeria Ltd.

Bisade Karunwi

Free BMT


Interestingly, Bisade did not pay a kobo – sorry, a cent – for the costly procedure, which he underwent at the US National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. All he did was find a donor in his family – one of his brothers, who was a 100% match.


‘The financial angle was fully taken up by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).’



Rough Road to Freedom


Sometimes Bisade would sleep for 20 hours in a day and still wake up tired. He was more in stupor than asleep!


For many months after the transplant, Bisade had to take some 21 different pills every day, to prevent what is known as Graft versus Host Disease (GVHD) in which the body attacks the very elements that would rid it of its troubles.


Bisade needed to drink lots of water during his waking hours – not a huge problem – and he was also required to do whatever physical exercises he could manage – a herculean task, given the profound tiredness.


For most of his recovery period, he wore face masks to ward of infection from his environment and from the people who took care of or visited him. Fruits and uncooked foods of any sort were banned.



Free Man, Cautious Man


Mr. & Mrs. Karunwi on wedding day

Bisade’s first born child is on the way. He was careful to pick a lady whose genotype is AA. Although freed from the niggling and burdensome complications of sickle cell, he is savvy enough to know that the SS gene still lurks within.

‘My manifest genotype is AA,’ Bisade told incredulous guests at a recent bone marrow transplant seminar in Lagos, ‘but my innate genotype remains SS – I can still transmit the sickle gene to my descendants.’

It is apparent that even when – with God-driven knowledge – scientists tweak and change genotype, God himself does not reverse the genotype He decreed at conception.

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