A LETTER TO FELLOW SICKLE CELL WARRIORS
By Aduke Asiata Onikoyi-Laguda, Ilasamaja, Lagos, Nigeria
I was always ill as a child; no one knew what was wrong. Some said I was abiku, forsworn to wreck physical, financial and emotional havoc on the family.
A drop of rain on my body, and I would lapse into severe bone pain ordeal. Many a time I looked up to heaven and demanded of God why I was born into a world of pain. No one knew I had sickle cell disorder.
I attended Queen’s College, Lagos and got married to my doctor, a polygamist and a much older man. Dr. Bolaji Alakija of blessed memory used to give me medicines to take every day, but did not explain why. We had five children.
In 1960, I travelled to England to be study to be a Secretary. My mom was dead set against my going abroad because of the legendary English winters. I assured her I would be ok. ‘It’s the same God here in Nigeria as in England – He will surely take control.’ Mom acquiesced and accepted to take my children in to tend until I returned.
It was in England that a diagnosis of SCD (HbSC) was made of me. I had practically never heard that word before. Of course I have more than a passing acquaintance with abiku, emere and other such constructs the Yoruba employed to describe abnormal children.
After my studies I returned to Nigeria to work. I would leave for work in the morning, unsure when I shall return to my kids – the unpredictable nature of SCD was a signal character of my existence then. Oftentimes from work, sudden pain crises would barge in and I would be admitted in hospital. What a life!
As I grew older, sickle cell receded. For the past 50 years – except for the time I had a fall after my 90th birthday – I have not had any remarkable episode of SCD crises.
What can others do that I have not done? I had my six children by normal delivery and performed hajj 13 times. At 87, I wanted to go on my 14th pilgrimage to Mecca, but my children said it was enough!
I have no dietary restrictions. I eat and drink whatever I fancied – meat, fish, diary, salt, anything.
You could say I am a strong woman, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Until four years ago, I cooked my own meals, washed my own clothes, rode on motorbikes and tricycles.
My life demonstrates the fact that having sickle cell is not a death sentence. At the time I was born, few infants lived to see their fifth birthday.
If Allah permits, anyone can live to a ripe old age, irrespective of their health challenges. Having SCD does not limit what you can achieve – indeed having SCD could be and should be your spur to high achievement. You can become anything you set your mind to.
However, since heaven helps those who help themselves, you should consciously try to avoid known SCD crises triggers – extremes of temperature, physical and mental stress, dehydration and what not.Know that if you have SCD – or any other chronic health challenge for that matter – God is on your side!