Have you ever come across people in your life that you can never forget?
Innocent, this name keeps ringing in my mind ever since I was a kid. He was my best friend and bench mate in primary 5 so many years back. He was very intelligent, inquisitive and above all brilliant but always sick.
We called him “Head Boy” due to the size of his head, but he never bothered because he always emerged first in class, hence consoled himself with the fact that his head was full of knowledge that’s why it was large.
Innocent spent several weeks away from school due to ill health, but each time he returned he took just a few minutes to understand things which we had struggled to understand for many weeks to no avail.
Behold the “head boy“ as he was called will teach us all what was taught in his absence. After being taught severally by “head boy” we changed his name to “sense man” because we discovered Innocent was different from us all especially when it came to education hence he deserved our respect.
Everybody was a friend to Innocent especially the very weak pupils in class who went to him for explanation each time they didn’t understand the lesson taught. He was patient in teaching us each time we went close to him.
On this faithful Thursday afternoon, it was break time, the sun was over head and there was a lot of heat and hunger, I was walking out of class with Innocent when we met a classmate of ours eating fried corn locally called “krang krang”.
We knew we had found a solution to our hunger, but to our greatest surprise he asked us to run and touch a tree in the school compound before he could offer us his fried corn, we hesitated for a while but the hunger forced us to. So we started running, behold we barely ran for 30 seconds when innocent fell to the ground and couldn’t breathe well.
We were all frightened and screamed. Our teacher rushed to the scene and Innocent was rushed to a nearby health center. As young and naïve as we were we started blaming our classmate who ordered us to run. We called him names like “neck man” (greedy man), little did we know that our mate wasn’t the cause of what happened to Innocent.
A few days later Innocent returned to school and as usual everyone was happy to see him again because we knew that all our unsolved problems would be solved.
A few weeks later Innocent was absent again, as usual we thought he was sick and was going to return after a few days, little did we know that this time around he was gone for good.
A group of friends and myself decided to go to Innocent’s house after school to check on him, on arrival we were informed by a neighbor that he was rushed to the village health center a few days back so we then proceeded to the health center.
On arrival we found our friend lying helpless and tired in bed with a drip running. He could barely speak to us, all the mother told us was that he was suffering from malaria and the nurse said he was getting better. We wished him a quick recovery and left for our various homes, little did we know that our friends end was around the corner.
Three days after we visited the hospital news reached school that Innocent was no more, he died of malaria just like his late senior brother. All sorts of rumors were heard around the village, ranging from stories of witchcraft to stories of how their parents sacrificed them for rituals, but at the end of the day nobody knew the real cause of Innocents’ death.
A few years later the village health center was upgraded to an integrated health center and a medical doctor was sent to the center.
When late Innocents younger brother took ill he was taken to the health center and the doctor requested for a series of lab tests at the end of which he diagnosed the child of having sickle cell disease.
We were hearing about such an illness for the first time in that village, nobody understood what it was all about.
A few months later I gained admission into college hence moved from the village to the city. News later reached me that innocents younger brother had passed away following a brief illness and the deceased father had sent away his wife, accusing her of killing her two sons, what a tragedy.
My deceased friend’s father later on got himself another wife, who gave him another child who equally passed away after a brief illness.
It became obvious that the problem was no longer with the first wife, but a problem of the family. I began wondering what could be the cause of such a misery.
After college I gained admission by means of competitive entrance examination into a medical school in the lone Anglo-Saxon university in my country at the time.
As studies in medical school progressed I began to understand sickle cell disease the more and also began getting a clue of what might have killed one of the most intelligent brains in our primary school days.
I also learnt about the different methods which could be put in place to prevent such a tragedy from reoccurring in our society, with one of the most important measures being pre-marital counseling and screening.
Pre-marital counseling and screening, is something I never heard of in my village not to even talk of people going to do medical tests before marriage, It was unheard of. Then I began pondering “if premarital counseling and screening becomes common in our society, the number of people with sickle cell disease will reduce greatly”.
As I progressed to my clinical years in medical school I met many more patients with sickle cell disease, some died struggling with the crisis.
On one faithful day, two patients passed away as a result of chest pain and difficulties in breathing which are similar to what my late friend innocent had in our primary school days. Then I began studying ways in which this crisis could be prevented.
I discovered that simple methods like drinking a lot of water, avoiding strenuous exercises and complex methods like being vaccinated against certain diseases just to name a few, could help prevent crises in patients with sickle cell disease thereby reducing deaths and also giving them an almost normal life like every other individual.
Many great minds and destinies have been lost in my society, my country, Africa and the world at large as a result of sickle cell disease.
Shall we fold our hands and watch our children, brothers, sisters, friends and colleagues die, when something can be done to keep them alive?
We have to take up the initiative and prevent couples from having children with sickle cell disease by encouraging pre-marital counseling and screening and also organizing outreach programs to educate the general public on sickle cell disease.
Organizing seminars, workshops, outreach programs on how people with sickle cell disease can live a healthy and close to normal life, it will also go a long way at giving these people a longer life span and also reduce the number of crisis they have.
The battle is ours, let’s take up the challenge and chase sickle cell disease out of our societies.
Together let’s stop sickle cell disease, lets stop the destiny killer.
This article is a contribution by LEKU BRICE AL HASSAN ETU, Student Faculty of Health Sciences University of Buea Cameroon.