Slowly adjusting herself into one of the sofas in the tiny living room that breezy Wednesday morning, Alhaja Rafiat Yakubu, could barely utter a word. With eyes still swollen from days of crying and body too weak to swing around, it was indeed a very difficult period for the mother of five. Since losing her 30-year-old son, Yusuf, an undergraduate of Psychology at the University of Lagos, to cancer on July 22 this year, her world has suddenly taken a different twist. The painful demise of Yusuf leaves a big hole in her heart.
“My son didn’t deserve to die this way,” she cried, while a handful of women who had thronged the family home at Lawanson, a sprawling suburb within the Lagos metropolis, made spirited efforts at consoling her. “He was a lovable child,” she continued. “He wanted the best for everyone around him. He was the type of child any parent would wish for.
“We started last year’s Ramadan fast together but when it got to a stage, he said he couldn’t continue anymore, that he was experiencing pains in his throat. But three weeks later, he complained of tooth and gum pain. After some time, we noticed some wound inside his mouth. Immediately, he started visiting the Lagos University Teaching Hospital at Idi-Araba for a solution.”
But rather than getting a lasting answer to his situation at LUTH, his visit to the medical facility opened what would be a long and tortuous journey on the sickbed. It is one step Alhaja says, flushed her son’s entire dreams down the drain.
“Even though Yusuf had done series of tests, a specialist he was directed to see at LUTH asked him to do a particular one again at a diagnostic centre at Surulere which costs N35, 000. When the doctor saw the result, he said they were going to cut somewhere in his nose and mouth which would be tested in the laboratory. He was asked to come back the following week for the result on that. But by the time he went back, nothing had been done. He was very sad and insisted that they attended to him and give him the result.
“I was shocked to realise that he wasn’t given any drug or analgesic even after something was cut off from his nose and mouth. He told me he wasn’t given any drug, I wondered why. When the result was finally released to him, he was told he had cancer. We couldn’t believe it,” she said.
The news came as a rude shock to the entire family. The result was hard to accept. Cancer? Where did it come from? It had never happened in the family. But what could they do? Time was running out. Yusuf’s condition was deteriorating. They needed answers at all cost.
“The doctor assigned to him at LUTH, Dr. Bamgboye, of the ENT section said he should do a radiography test. He told us that their machine was faulty and that we should either go to University College Hospital, Ibadan or Eko Hospital. That was in November last year. At Ibadan, we were also told the machine was faulty. We finally brought him to Eko Hospital even though it was quite expensive.
“When we got there, we were first asked to pay N40, 000 which we did. They however told us that we had to come back and do it in January because there were so many people on the queue who had booked appointments ahead. We pleaded with one of the workers there that he was a student and he needed to be quickly attended to because of his academics. The lady had pity on us and asked us to bring him for the radiography the next day after we paid another N120, 000.
“We were also told that he would need to do chemotherapy for six weeks at the cost of N45, 000 per week. Sometimes it could be as much as N50, 000. After the whole treatment, we were given a note to take him back to LUTH, that they had finished their own job on him. But by his next clinic day, Yusuf could not stand or walk again.
“His sister went to complain to Dr. Bamgboye who told her that he would only know what step to take after seeing him. The following week, I took him down to LUTH myself but was told on arrival that the doctor was away in Abuja for a meeting. I insisted that another doctor attend to him but the nurses told us it was not possible and that it was only Dr. Bamgboye who had been on his case that could attend to him.
“We took him back to our private doctor and he checked him again. At that point, he could not eat anymore,” she said.
The days and weeks that followed were very turbulent periods for the entire family. Alhaja had to sell her car and other valuables to foot the bills of Yusuf’s treatment which at that time was piling by the minute. The sickness was sucking every available penny without any significant improvement in his health. It was at that point that the idea of flying him abroad for treatment popped up. Hope soon turned into determination. But just when everything was falling in place, a hitch along the line changed everything.
“We got a Saudi Arabia visa to fly him there for treatment but by the time he got the visa, he could not stand or walk again. The hospital in Saudi told us to get some papers from Lagos. By the time the papers came, his one month visa had expired. It was at that point that his school mates from UniLag stood up and began processing how we could fly him to India for treatment.
“His colleagues collected my details and account number and started drumming up financial support through Facebook and other social media platforms. People responded almost immediately by paying money into the account. The same day we took him to the Indian Embassy he was issued two months visa.
“I then asked that he should be discharged from LUTH because he was not getting proper attention there but we were told that it wasn’t easy to be discharged from the hospital, that in fact it was easier to be admitted than to be discharged at LUTH.
“Well, I and his siblings decided that we exercise a little more patience so that he could be discharged at LUTH before taking him to India. But that was our greatest mistake. If I had known, I would have insisted that he should be discharged by all means. Maybe if I did that, my son would have been alive today.
“Several times I would call the doctors and they would tell me they were coming to attend to him but all turned out to be lies. We never saw Dr. Bamgboye again till the boy died. Another doctor who spared time to check him at intervals told us that Bamgboye was no longer at the ENT and that he had become a consultant. But nobody bothered to explain this to us. My son passed through pains. He could have been alive if we had taken him away from LUTH early enough,” the grieving mother told our correspondent in the course of the week.
Laying on another couch at a corner of the living room, Olayinka, Yusuf’s immediate elder sister, could hardly speak, too. Like her mother, she is yet to get over the shock his demise threw the entire family into. She told our correspondent Yusuf could have survived his battle with cancer had the doctors at LUTH lived up to their responsibilities of keeping him alive to make the 14, 146 kilometre trip to India.
“Yusuf lost his speech since March this year. Anything he wanted to say, he typed on his phone because he could not talk again. That was the only way he communicated his feelings,” Olayinka explained. “After the radiography test, he could not also eat anything again. The only thing he could take was pap, tea and anything liquid. He couldn’t walk again; crawling was his only means of moving around the house. His situation became that bad.
“After being admitted at LUTH for close to one month, the doctors told my mother that they needed to do an operation for him so that food could be passed directly into his stomach through pipe. I was angry when I heard that because he was managing to take liquid items through his mouth and there was no point doing an operation that would only allow the same liquid foods like pap and the rest to be passed into his stomach. To me, that did not make any sense because he was able to take that occasionally.
“But the doctors who were going to do that particular operation persuaded us that it was important we allowed him to undergo that surgery. That was on Sunday, June 29, two days before the doctors’strike. They said they needed to do it before the strike commenced and so we agreed grudgingly.
“I asked them that if they did that operation on that Sunday and the strike began the following Tuesday, how was he going to be getting drugs and all the other attention he needed. They said we had no reason to worry, that nurses would always be around to attend to him.
“But to our surprise, we didn’t see them again that Sunday. On Monday they promised to come again, we didn’t see them also. Already, the doctors had instructed that Yusuf should not be fed again from that Sunday. So, by Monday afternoon he sent me a text that he was very hungry. I insisted that he should be fed that day and in fact throughout that day the doctors didn’t show up. The next day which was Tuesday, they went on strike.
“I still have the receipt of the money we paid for that operation that was never done. My mother paid N22, 800 for that particular operation. He was admitted on June 26 at LUTH and died on July 22,” she said.
Adeoba Michael is a bosom friend of the departed Yusuf. Having shared many memorable times together, he described some of his buddy’s last moments on earth. He told our correspondent there were times in the course of the battle that a strong man like his departed friend was betrayed by his own emotions.
“Yusuf had huge dreams. He wanted to bring peace to Nigeria and care for the needy. Such was his large and strong heart. But there was a day he called me into his room and typed a message on his phone for me to read. He said, “Michael, I know you don’t really know how I feel, this is cancer am battling with and if something is not done fast to improve my condition, I could be forced to take my own life.” That really struck me. I almost cried because for a strong person like Yusuf to say such words, it meant he was really dying and I couldn’t do anything to help. I can never forget those words,” he said.
Henry Okwudili, Yusuf’s classmate before the latter deferred in 300 level to attend to his failing health, led the campaign to restore hope to an almost hopeless situation. Like Olayinka, Okwudili told Saturday PUNCH that unprofessionalism on the part of the doctors and nurses taking care of Yusuf at LUTH led to his death.
“After our convocation, we decided to visit and see how Yusuf was faring. When we got to the family house, we realised he was actually brought home to die because there was no money to take care of his treatment. Yusuf was a very close friend.
“It was at that point that we kicked off the campaign to raise funds and fly him to India for treatment. We started by writing letters, we wrote to the University of Lagos; we wrote to the school’s health insurance scheme, to ASUU, UniLag chapter and the Lagos State chapter as a whole, including other Non-Governmental Organisations.
“On the first day, we got a donation of N25, 000. It was a long way from the N7m we needed for his treatment. We did a simple statistics and realised that if we could make the campaign go viral and have just 7, 000 persons give N1, 000, our mission would be complete.
“We put this up all over the social media so much that even the BBC came down to verify the claim at LUTH. They helped us in also mobilising support. Even Twitter worked wonders for us. In two days, we had over 6, 000 tweets on Yusuf’s case. Within a week, we received over N2m in donations. Over the next two weeks that followed, we had arrived at N6m. The response was really encouraging.
“Since the doctors went on strike in Nigeria, we established contact with one Apollo Hospital in India so that we could fly him there for treatment. We had everything he needed for the trip ready. But the next news we heard was his death. He died only few hours before his flight was scheduled to leave for India. It was really devastating.
“If we had a good health care system in this country, Yusuf could have been alive today because he would have been sustained till he made that trip. For 20 days, nobody attended to him at the hospital. Somebody who was having nasopharyngeal cancer, who could hardly eat, you abandon him for that long because you were on strike? That is not fair by any means. There could have been other means to keep him alive at least until he was flown abroad. In my opinion, the strike contributed to his death.”
But Public Relations Officer of LUTH, Hope Nwokolo, disagreed with the assertion that negligence on the part of any of their doctors contributed to the victim’s death. She told our correspondent that it was impossible for any doctor at LUTH to deliberately ignore any patient needing attention.
“I disagree that the person you are talking about was not given proper attention. I mean how can a trained doctor ignore a dying patient before him. If the family has any grievance, they should write the management and we shall take up the matter and investigate thoroughly,” she said.
A promising young man cut in his prime by one of the world’s deadliest killer diseases – nasopharyngeal cancer – Yusuf had huge dreams of changing the world around him for the better. A high-flying student of psychology with a cumulative grade point of above 3.5, he was a shining star among family and friends.
Nasopharyngeal cancer is the most common cancer originating in the uppermost region of the throat, behind the nose where the nasal passages and auditory tubes join the remainder of the upper respiratory tract. According to the World Health Organisation, the disease attacks children and adults, differing significantly from other cancers of the head and neck in its occurrence, causes, clinical behaviour, and treatment. The WHO says the ailment is most common in males and is mostly caused by environmental and hereditary factors.