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93-year-old Nigerian sickle cell survivor shares life and survival story against the odds

A 93-year-old Nigerian woman who has Sickle Cell anaemia has granted an interview in which she spoke about her life, living with sickle cell, marriage, childbirth and surviving against the odds.

Alhaja Ashiata Abike Onikoyi nee Laguda will be 94 years old this October and she lives a full life though she has the dreaded SS genotype. Alhaja Laguda, as she is popularly called, said during an interview with The Nation, that she stopped having Sickle Cell attacks since she turned 40, though her genotype remains same.

“Doctors see me and wonder what a miracle I am.,” the nonagenarian said.

She recalled that being sickly was tougher at the time she was growing up because nobody knew about sickle cell anaemia. She was always sick to the point that in a whole year, she may attend school only about three months of the entire annual school calendar while she spent the other months sick and at home. She was given all sorts of concoctions to cure her illness due to the ignorance surrounding the ailment.

“I was taken to the hospital; then they still brought all sorts of concoction from the Igbo tribe, from Yoruba people and from Hausa part of the country, because it was a very serious sickness. I just took everything that they gave me. They would cut me on every part of my body but I gave myself to them because I wanted to live.”

When the illness attacked her hands, she recalled that she would not be able to use them for anything – not even to eat. When it attacked her legs, she would not be able to walk, and whenever she was at home, she must be by the fire-side, to keep her warm.

“They called me abiku and several other names, but thank God things have changed today. Also, the government is doing everything within its power to enlighten the people about the disease.”

She said her father pampered her because he feared he could lose her at any moment. So he mostly kept her away from school.

She said: “If he didn’t die, I probably wouldn’t have been educated because he said I should be left at home, so that they can watch over me every time.

“He insisted that because of my nature, no teacher should beat me. He would say I should be left at home even when I was not having any attacks; but when he died I had no choice because my mum insisted I went to school. That, in a nutshell, was how it became possible for me to go to school.”

She added: “If I went to school and it was going to rain, they would bring a car to pick me, because the rain must not touch me. I must not go out in the cold, I must not step on wet ground; I couldn’t even stay where there was a fan, let alone in a cold weather.

“But all that is gone now. Since I clocked forty, I have not had any attacks.”

Alhaja later wanted to go to England for Secretariat Studies but concerned persons advised her mother against it because they thought the cold weather will not be conducive to her health. She stood her grounds and travelled and there she got better care because they understood her illness.

Alhaja Laguda later married, more than once, and had children. The first man she married was her medical doctor, Dr. Alakija. He was married at the time but loved her and understood her condition so he also married her and came to her rescue when at Queen’s College, Lagos, she was expected to be involved in certain activities that were too tasking for her health.

She had two children with her first husband before his death. Then she remarried and had more kids. When asked how many husbands she had, she replied, “I had many husbands o!”

She said all the men she married knew she was sickly but they didn’t care because in those days, not everyone knew about sickle cell anaemia.

“They loved me so, and married me so,” she explained

She had four of her children before travelling out of Nigeria and said childbirth was pretty easy for her. But the delivery of her last child was not so easy and she thought she would die.

She recalled: “I remember when I had my last child, I told the doctor that I would die that day but he said no, that I would not die. He and other doctors on duty were on ground, telling me that they were weighing the blood I was losing and they gave me the best treatment. In fact, at lunch time I was up and doing; I even had lunch with the doctors.”

Alhaja Laguda has remained strong all her life and even continued doing herlaundryy herself up until the age of 90 when she suffered a fall and began to take things slow. She attributes her long and healthy life to praying and trying as much as possible to lead a normal life.

She said: “What gave me the strength is God because I am a prayer warrior. I prayed, I fasted regularly and I have visited the holy land (Mecca) thirteen times, to serve my God and ask him for what I want.”

As regards nourishment, Alhaja Laguda said she doesn’t avoid any foods and eats everything.

She said: “I eat everything that people eat. This morning I had bread and egg. I don’t have any don’ts at all. I eat sugar also.

“I eat dates a lot also because they are from Mecca and they are very good fruits.”

She said she does a lot of exercising and believes walking is the best form of exercise.

She said:, “Before I fell, I used to walk from my house here in Ilasamaja, Lagos to Mushin and Oshodi market as a form of exercise because I believe walking is the best exercise one can engage in. I walked like that until I was 90 when I fell and had to stop.”

Prior to her fall, Alhaja Laguda used to go to hospitals to talk to people living with Sickle Cell anaemia, lecture them, and encourage them. She called on parents with children suffering from sickle cell anaemia to take care of the children very well, feed them well and show them lots of love.

“This will make it easier for them to live with the disease. When it is cold, keep them warm; don’t keep them at home because they are always sick; let them go to school, it is very important,” she said.

She said she hopes to leave this earth soon, adding: “I want to go but God has not killed me, so I have no choice but live.”

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