Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Story of Stella, Part 2: In Search of Neurosurgeon & Race to Get Stella out of Nigeria


By Mike Egboh

Part 2

Stella Iwuagwu is the founder and CEO of the Center for the Right to Health (CRH), non-profit organizations that has provided voice for the voiceless and hope for the hopeless. A nurse by profession, Stella had just completed course work for her PhD program at the Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, USA. She returned home to collect data for her dissertation . The previous post Part 1 described her immediate post auto accident treatment for her severe spinal cord injuries and trying to get a bed in ICU at National Hospital in Nigeria...

In Search of a Neurosurgeon

The attending consultant recommended expert evaluation by a neurosurgeon. We were shocked to find out that an apex Hospital has no neuron surgeon. We were told that a consultant neuro-surgeon by name Dr. Shehu normally comes in from Othman Dan Fodio University Teaching Hospital in Sokoto. Dr Shehu we were told was expected the next day which was Friday but warned that the possibility of having Dr Shehu see Stella was remote because he had a long list, but again if we were able to talk with the CMD, she can be seen. We embarked on another session of getting to see the CMD in other to get Stella to be evaluated as she was now not able to move her limbs and body up to the breast level. Some of the very senior consultants at the Hospital approached to help talk to the CMD painted a grimmer picture. They were irked by the fact that the only Neuro-surgeon they had left because of differences of opinion with some management staff. He returned to the US where he was practicing before he returned home to serve. Different persons made spirited efforts to reach the CMD to ensure Stella was on the list of those to be seen. Very late on Friday night, (Stella’s 3rd day at the hospital), one Dr Nasiru that work with Dr Shehu arrived Abuja and was able to evaluate Stella about midnight. His evaluation confirmed our greatest fears, a spinal cord injury. Dr Nasiru knew what needed to be done but did not have the requisite tools to do it.

In order to save Stella’s life, the friends decided to evacuate her to where she can get expert care. In order to expedite this, a medical report (MRI) was required to be forwarded to the potential hospital that would accept her for treatment. While we scanned the various countries for suitable places including the US, Germany, South Africa, France, the UK and Ghana, we had another challenge as we were told that there was no letter head paper to write the official report until Monday when the administrative offices will be opened. Again we were told to get in touch with the CMD to obtain letter headed paper. This necessitated another round of networking to reach the CMD. This time we spread our dragnet to the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello who was outside the Country with the Honorable Minister for Health. She gave the phone number to reach the CMD. The team coordinator followed up with a call on Saturday morning and was able to get through to CMD who was at the time in the Hospital premises. Reassured that a letter head will be made available, Dr Nasiru was called and informed of the new development and he promptly said he will be in the available to do the report. The CMD was eventually met and when asked why there was no Neuro-surgeon at the hospital considering the strategic position of the institution, the CMD replied that there was actually one who according to him was “old, retired and tired”. He went further to state that the hospital was established for Women and Children eight years ago and not meant to cope with the current issues (Stella is a woman). Reminded that there were several highly qualified Nigerians practicing Neuro-surgery outside the country the CMD retorted: asked them to apply, its online, they do not want to come home. Why will a well qualified and highly skilled professional come to such institution where management decisions that concerns human lives seemed to be centralized in an institution that require an environment that is supportive of on-the spot decision making and innovation? While at the ICU the CMD met with Dr Nasiru and the Dr. on duty and had discussion on our decision to move Stella out of the Hospital. While this was going on, efforts were being made to identify suitable hospitals in the countries earlier mentioned. It was unbelievable to see the CMD call his secretary to come and work on the report. In the year 2007 when the hospital is networked, we still depend on secretaries to type a report? The report was finally sent to the various specialists in four countries including Ghana. The responses from them were very rapid and in unison confirmed the need to get Stella out fast. It was decided that she be flown to Korlebu Hospital in Accra, Ghana.

Race to Get Stella Out of Nigeria

The next battle was to get an air ambulance, River’s State government, Julius Berger, Aero Contractors, Virgin etc were all contacted. It was Mr. Tunde Oremule the MD of Associated Airline that came to the rescue and had to mobilize his crew within short period to evacuate Stella. Back at the National Hospital, preparations were on gear by friends of Stella to mobilize resources to pay for the aircraft and to get medical staff to accompany her to Accra. By Sunday morning, one of the doctors agreed to go, but we were told on the day of departure the he spoke to the CMD who said he was not aware of the decision, and so the doctor disappeared and turned off his phone. The CMD on the other hand was not picking up his phone either. The frustration encountered in trying to get a doctor and a nurse to accompany Stella in-flight, incase of emergency is better imagined as some of us broke down in tears not for Stella but for Nigeria. One of Stella’s , a highly trained Nurse volunteered to be on board with one of the ICU nurse. The head of the ICU had to pace the hospital several times to get an Ambulance to convey Stella to the airport. We had to rely on friends to get Stella into the ambulance as there were no real paramedics available to handle what is a very delicate case that needed specialized hands.

While we were having hell in Nigeria trying to get the National Hospital to do the needful to get Stella out, the medical team in Ghana were calling almost every 30 minutes to know when the flight will be departing and landing so they could be there to receive her. While it was difficult to get National hospital to act in Abuja, the reverse was the case in Accra as on arrival there were at least ten medical and paramedical personnel waiting at the airport with ambulance to receive Stella, what a sharp contrast.

Stella got the first professional care in six days of having the accident. Her case got worse in Abuja because of very poor professional care, poor attitude and crippling management decision making process.

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