As a lad, Segun George could not put his finger on exactly what was wrong within his family. Yet he knew for sure something was wrong. There was something within the family dynamics which spelled pain, acute suffering, protracted illness and the Inevitable.
Ten children in all were born to the Georges, and six of them were with sickle cell anaemia. The family had no respite from crisis all year round. The four unaffected children, Segun being one of them, were in a way affected too, as they watched frozen and helpless, the many intense bouts of illness their siblings underwent. And no less the parents.
‘One day,’ Segun recalls in an interview with Sickle Cell News, ‘my father returned from a journey of several day. One of my siblings, a two-year old passed away a few hours earlier.
‘There was an eerie atmosphere at home when my father came in. He asked for a glass of water; and before he could drink, someone broke the news to him.
‘In his overwrought state of mind, my father screamed and crushed the glass of water in his hand – a feat he could not have performed in a normal state of consciousness.’
Little wonder Segun opted to study medicine, graduating in 1976 (Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria).
He had seen too much of sickle cell first hand. He could not take chances when it came to marriage.
‘My genotype is AS,’ he says, ‘and having witnessed so much, it would have been reckless of me to marry another carrier and risk bringing torture upon an innocent child – upon myself ultimately.
Sickle cell is – and will always be – a sore point with Dr. Segun George. One day, not long after he began his practice, he sat across the table from the renowned paediatrician, the late Professor Afolabi Lesi, and expressed the opinion that if he (George) were in position of authority, he would make it mandatory that all intending couples knew their genotype and its implications for their offspring. By this means, he imagined, people would think twice before venturing into unions which could doom innocent children.
But the erudite Professor Lesi would have none of it.
‘Genotype or no,’ Lesi replies with mild asperity, ‘you absolutely can’t deter people from marrying anyone of their choice – I thank God you’re not in a position of authority!’
The memory of siblings ill-used by sickle cell welled up in Dr. George’s memory. He was close to tears and anger when he turned sharply to the professor:
‘Sir, apart from treating people with sickle cell, do you have any close family member with the disorder?’
When Lesi replied, No, George retorted, ‘I’m sorry sir, but you know NOTHING about sickle cell!’
Dr. George well knows the disconnection between those whose only interaction with sickle cell and those who feel it at a personal level.
‘Who feels it,’ he says, ‘knows it better.’