In this report, JESUSEGUN ALAGBE writes about how children whose limbs were amputated have found new hope in prostheses
For 15 years of her life, 17-year-old Deborah Bisiriyu walked on only one leg — her left one. All through those years, she cried, always wanted to lock herself indoors. She wished she could understand why, unlike her friends, she was born with only one leg. But she never knew: she was also born with two healthy legs.
However, her life took a turnaround few weeks to her second birthday. In early 2001, her mother woke up to see her very ill. Her body was shivering, her temperature running high. Putting the little girl on her back, Bisiriyu’s mother found her way to a clinic that morning, and there the two-year-old was given an injection. This was the beginning of the little girl’s trouble.
Few days after the injection, Bisiriyu’s mother discovered that her daughter’s right leg had begun to shrink. Few days later, her right hand had also become affected. Expectedly, she started to become scared, then she rushed the girl to another hospital. There she got the shocking news.
After a number of diagnoses, officials at the hospital said the shrink was as a result of the injection Bisiriyu was earlier given. After trying all they could, they were able to save the little girl’s hand from deformity, but their efforts to do same on her leg proved abortive. They said it had to be amputated.
Hence, Bisiriyu’s leg was amputated when she was two years old, just before she started walking and had to learn to walk with crutches, which she used for the next 14 years of her life.
But fate smiled on her when in February 2016, Bisiriyu got a prosthetic leg, courtesy of a Lagos-based non-governmental organisation, The Irede Foundation, which seeks to provide prosthetic limbs for children between 0 and 18 years who are suffering from limb loss. And now, for the first time in her life, Bisiriyu could walk without crutches and without any support from anybody.
With tears streaming down her face, Bisiriyu told Saturday PUNCH how she felt for the 15 years of her life when she walked on one leg, “I never felt good. I never felt happy. My friends always laughed at me. They always abused me. They called me names. Some of them said I was a ‘witch.’ They thought it was my wish not to have two legs. They wouldn’t play with me. I was always alone, crying.
“I didn’t want to go out most times because if I did, nobody was going to play with me. They felt I brought the condition upon myself. I usually pitied myself. I always wondered why I was not born with two legs like my friends, but I never got the answer.”
But now that she has been provided with an artificial leg, Bisiriyu — who wants to become a medical doctor — said she was happy and could do most of the things she never thought she could do.
She said, “When I showed up in the school with my two legs, my classmates were surprised. They were asking what happened, some of them asked who gave me a second leg. They were happy.
“I too am happy now. I can walk on two legs. Some of my classmates who used to run away from me are now playing with me, but some still don’t and I don’t bother. I just want to become a doctor and save people’s lives.”
Bisiriyu’s aunt, Adiat, who spoke to our correspondent, said life had been better for her niece ever since she got the prosthetic leg.
An official at the foundation, Adetomi Adeduro, said Bisiriyu was referred there by a beneficiary of the foundation’s initiative.
The founder of the foundation, Mrs. Crystal Chigbu, told Saturday PUNCH that the idea for the foundation was birthed following her experience with her daughter, Beulah, who was born with a missing tibia [the larger and stronger of the two bones in the leg below the knee] and patella [a thick, circular-triangular bone which articulates with the femur (thigh bone) and covers and protects the anterior articular surface of the knee joint] of her right leg.
She said, “When I gave birth to my daughter seven years ago, she had no patella in her right leg. We were advised that the leg be amputated. My husband and I struggled with the idea, but eventually we had to go for it.
“So her leg was amputated when she was two years and three months old. However, I wanted to put a smile on her face. So after the amputation, we went to get her a prosthetic leg.”
Now, with the prosthetic leg, Beulah is living an amazing life — she could dance, swim, jump and do all sorts of activities.
Chigbu said, “That incident spurred me to starting this foundation in 2012. If I could put a smile on my daughter’s face, I could put it on some others. Since four years ago when we started, we have had 45 children without limbs being referred to us.
“Some of them had their limbs lost as a result of accidents, some had congenital defects like my daughter. But they don’t have to go through life like that. They need support and we have been trying our best in this regard.”
Dashed hopes restored
It was one of the worst moments of Mrs. Motunrayo Jimoh’s life when the left hand of her daughter, Medinat, suddenly fell off when she was just two years old.
Motunrayo said, “Medinat is my fourth child and she was born without any defect in 2013. But eight days after her christening, I noticed that her left hand was paining her. She was always crying. My husband and I took her to the clinic where I gave birth to her, maybe they could give us some medicine.
“But three days after we got there, they said it was not something that could be cured with medicine, and they referred us to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. I was already becoming afraid and sad.
“When we got to LUTH, as they were pulling off her cloth to diagnose her, her left hand fell off. It was something I had never seen before in my life. I was deeply troubled. I lost my consciousness immediately. My daughter was crying. So she lost her left hand the same year she was born.”
Since that year, Motunrayo said she had always been weeping quietly and thinking, “How would my daughter crawl? How would she be able to do things her friends were doing?”
This worry made her not to remember to mark her daughter’s first birthday. But on her second, she changed her mind.
She said, “When she was two, I organised a birthday party for her. I wanted to make her happy. I also enrolled her in a school. With that one hand, she wrote, and she started playing with her friends. I was happy.”
Medinat could even play better now as she has also got a prosthetic arm.
Timileyin Odole’s older brother, Israel, sent him on an errand in the Baruwa area of Lagos sometime in November 2015. On his way back to the house, a commercial motorcyclist knocked him down. The poor boy couldn’t stand up again. His left leg was badly damaged.
“I felt terrible when I got the news that day. I thought I shouldn’t have sent him,” Israel told Saturday PUNCH.
“People advised us that we should take him to a traditional bonesetter. Those ones poured hot water on the leg, tying it with a rope. We regretted taking him there.
“On December 17, 2015, when the leg started smelling, we took him to the General Hospital at Ikeja. There they said they were going to amputate my brother’s leg. I cried.”
After the leg was amputated, nine-year-old Timileyin’s journey to loneliness started. He wanted to be indoors most of the time and also gave up schooling.
He said, “Anytime I saw my friends playing ball, I felt like joining them, but I couldn’t anymore. I knew I was never going to play again. I knew I could never again be like my friends who have two legs.”
But his hope was restored when in September 2016 he got his prosthetic leg.
How did his friends react when they saw him again with two legs? Timileyin, beaming with smiles said, “When they saw me, they screamed, ‘Wow, you have collected your leg back?’ They were surprised.”
Adeduro lamented that children like Timileyin often face stigmatisation from their mates and even from adults.
She said, “The children face stigmatisation from their friends [Some of them think limb loss is contagious] and even from adults. For instance, Timileyin just started schooling again after the accident, but his school officials said he should wear trousers [to cover up his prosthetic leg] instead of shorts.
“But we insisted that his mum shouldn’t collect the trousers. If he is going to be a pupil in the school, then he should be treated like every other pupil. So now they have given him his shorts.”
Timileyin said he could now play football and basketball again, thanks to his new leg. But did he want to become a footballer or basketball player?
“I want to become a surgeon. I have always wanted to become one. I like to operate on people,” he said cheerily.
On February 2, 2015, Basirat was returning home from school when she was knocked down by a commercial motorcyclist, who immediately rushed her to a traditional bonesetter.
Basirat’s mother, Mrs. Rukayat, said, “I was at home that day when I got the bad news. I quickly raced to the bonesetter where I learned she was taken to. There they said she was going to be okay. She was even brought back home that night after they had collected N150,000, a part of which the motorcyclist also paid. But she was not okay.
“Few days later, the leg started stinking. We went to herbalists and others, but they couldn’t do anything about it. Then I took her to the General Hospital at Ikeja, where they said they were going to amputate her leg. ‘How could you amputate my daughter’s leg?’ I asked them. I started crying.”
Twenty-one days after Basirat was knocked down, she was taken to LUTH, where her leg was amputated.
Crying intermittently, Basirat said, “I was with a friend who lives near our house that day and we were returning from school. As I wanted to cross the road, the motorcyclist did not look at the front. He knocked me down. I tried to stand up immediately, but I couldn’t. I became weak.
“My friend’s mother came out of her house and saw what happened. I think she was the one who informed my mother. Ever since the incident, I couldn’t play again. I was not happy. But now, I have a prosthetic leg and I’ve resumed playing with my friends. I am glad.”
Some other children like Timileyin, Medinat and Basirat who lost their limbs have now had their hopes being restored gradually with the use of artificial limbs, but not without their initial painful stories.
Two-year-old Adenike Adeyemi went to get ice-cream from their neighbour’s shop in early 2016.
While she was standing outside licking the ice-cream, a pure water truck driver was reversing and unknown to him, Adeyemi was standing behind the truck.
In the course of reversing, the truck ran over her right leg. The leg had to be amputated. In October 2016, she received her prosthesis and can now move around on her own again without aid.
Likewise, a 10-year-old boy from Maiduguri, Borno State, simply identified as Audu, lost his left leg following a bomb explosion in Maiduguri sometime in 2014. He is going to receive a prosthetic leg soon, courtesy of TIF.
On February 14, 2016 Aliameen Owujebe’s elder sister was taking him out to celebrate the Valentine’s Day. While they were standing outside their house waiting for a public transport, a truck ran into them.
Aliameen’s elder sister died on the spot, while he lost his right leg. In October 2016, he can now walk again with both legs after he was given a prosthetic limb.
Million naira limbs
Prices for artificial limbs can cost anywhere from $3,000 (N945,000) to $50,000 (N15.8m), according to wnyc.org.
The high cost is said to have kept a lot of people with limb loss from the devices, especially in developing countries, where it is estimated that at least 200 million children are born with disability or become disabled before the age of 19.
Without access to adaptation assistive tools, it is said that 90 per cent of the children in the developing world like Nigeria may never have access to education, employment, marriage or even live a self-supportive lifestyle.
“This was what prompted us to be providing free prostheses for children for free,” Chigbu said.
“From any age we take in a child, we provide them with prostheses freely until they reach 18. We import the artificial limbs, but the cost has risen due to the dollar-naira exchange rate.
“For instance, a prosthetic limb used to cost around N1m, but with the rising rate of dollar, it has cost more. About four weeks ago when we wanted to order one for one of our children, it was N1.7m, and we said no, we were not going to buy it at that price.
“A week later when we realised there was nothing we could do about the situation, we contacted the supplier. Guess what? The price had risen to N2.8m.”
However, with the support of individuals and organisations, Chigbu said the organisation had been able to continue to fulfil its mission.
She said, “Sixty-eight per cent of our funding comes from individuals; 20 per cent from private companies and other foundations; while the remaining 12 per cent comes from the government.
“With this support, we have been making children happy. Once they are taken in, we support them till they reach 18. Once we get a child who needs to get a prosthetic limb, we raise funds and import the limb.
“We work with different orthopaedic hospitals like the National Orthopaedic Hospitals at Enugu and Lagos who help in the fitting of the limbs. As the kids grow older, the prosthetics become shorter and uncomfortable for them to use and we replace them.
“Some children grow quickly, so their own have to be replaced often. For instance, we have had to change the prostheses of some kids twice and thrice in a year, but once a child reaches 10 years, the growth rate slows down.”
In a country where children with limb loss are stigmatised and sometimes not given proper attention by parents, Chigbu said, “I encourage parents whose children have limb loss that there is nothing wrong with their brains. Some of them lock the children indoors due to their condition. That ought not to be so. These children can also achieve anything they want in life just like their colleagues.”
A world of possibilities
Just like Chigbu said, a psychologist, Mrs. Moyo Owolabi, said children like Timileyin, Bisiriyu and others who have got prosthetic legs sure could be what they want to be in life.
Owolabi also advised parents whose children are suffering from limb loss not to let their children’s condition create a source of worry for them as this could affect the children’s own emotional strength.
She said, “For parents, having a child born with a disability takes a lifelong adjustment. The siblings are also affected. But the parents must learn to tolerate, accept and celebrate those children as their siblings.
“School officials should also not try to create a foundation for stigmatisation for some of these children who are in school. They should treat them just like the other kids. They should let them feel proud and important just like the rest. Our society should also learn to support these kids. Look at Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprinter. Expose these children to successful stories of people like them. They could learn from his success, while they avoid his mistakes.”
Both of Pistorius’ legs were amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old. Despite this, he became one of the best athletes in the world as he was the tenth athlete to compete at both the Paralympic Games and the Olympic Games, competing in sprint events for below-knee amputees in Paralympic events, and in non-disabled sprint events.
He also became the first amputee to win a non-disabled world track medal. At the 2012 Summer Olympics, he became the first double-leg amputee to participate in the Olympics.
Another inspiring story is that of Viktoria Modesta, a Latvian-born English singer-songwriter performance artist and model.
Due to a doctor’s negligence at her birth, Modesta spent most of her childhood in and out of hospitals. This accident led to a lasting problem with her left leg.
In 2007, she had a voluntary below-the-knee leg amputation to improve her mobility and safeguard her future health.
Modesta, who also uses a prosthetic leg, recently said, “I don’t see prosthetics as an end to something that’s considered a disability. I see it as a beginning of extending yourself with technology and art.”