Complications of sickle cell anemia have claimed the life of Dr. Chukwudi Egwuatu, a consultant Pathologist and a lecturer at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Nnewi Campus, aged 44 years. Before his eventual death, he had surgery on his leg due to usual ulceration of the sickle cell anemia patients. Dr. Chukwudi Egwuatu was at his duty post as a Medical Consultant on
Monday, January 23, 2017 and died same night in his residence at Nnewi. At 44 years, Dr. Egwuatu was not married. He lived alone. A thousand deductions can be made from the fact that he was not married. A family source volunteered that Dr. Egwuatu desired to marry but the ulcer on his legs was a put off. No lady wanted to live with smelly sickle cell anemia ulcer. Many sickle cell victims develop leg ulcer. Few ‘sicklers’ who do not have the ulcer are luckier than others. In his sickle cell anemia status, Dr Egwuatu still emptied himself in his medical services as he worked round the clock at the University Teaching Hospital.
Dr. Chukwudi Egwuatu was born into a courageous family as his surname “Egwuatu” denotes. His parents affirmed that faith in God by naming him “Chukwudi”, a name that could also be interpreted to announce their remorse on realizing their mistake in neglecting genotype at the beginning of their marriage. Two more Sibling's of Chukwudi shared same genotype with him, one of who is dead. The other lives on. The life of Dr. Egwuatu demonstrates that God truly exists as borne out in the sacrifice of his life. Chukwudi himself had the courage to have persevered in the difficult and tortuous studies of becoming a Medical Doctor. He worked even harder and advanced to pinnacle of his training as a Consultant Pathologist. He emptied himself in the service of humanity. He did not bury himself in self pity as some people of same status would do. He knew what was wrong and cared for himself as long as his life lasted. He was a motivator and counselor to many sickle cell victims. His success in life propelled many other sickle cell sufferers to struggle on. Now that he has died, the ego of many sufferers is depleted. His death is a clarion call for fast and committed efforts to end the sickle cell anemia.
Sickle cell is caused by a group of inherited red blood cells which a child inherits from the parents. Once inherited, it is irreversible. Sickle cell is an inherited disorder which is not curable. At best it can be managed better in some family circles and by some individuals. Generally, people with sickle cell disorder die from the complications associated with the inherited trait. The whole human race is divided into these three genotype units AA, AS, SS without any known exception. A person whose genotype is SS is the ‘sickler’ while both the AS and AA genotypes are healthy. If a person born with AS genotype marries an AA genotype person, the married couple does not have fear of getting SS genotype children, but if an AS genotype marries another AS genotype carrier, their chance of getting SS genotype children is about fifty percent. And When an SS genotype carrier marries an SS genotype carrier all their off springs will be SS genotypes.
The fact remains that sickle cell anemia remains a social scourge inflicted on humanity through parents to their offspring either by carelessness or in ignorance. A child acquires the syndrome in the womb of the mother and grows up to be a sufferer. In effect, sickle CELL anemia sufferers are victims of choices made by their parents. They are victims of neglect of duty by relevant adults who brought them into the world. Many complications follow in the family with sickle cell sufferers. As young adults, sufferers hate their parents for bringing them into this world with such avoidable blood deformity. A lot of them grow up to be stubborn. Some get addicted to pain relievers as their pains increase.
Parents sometimes trade blames for their ignorance, deceit, connivance, infatuation and a lot of possible factors that might have ushered them into marriage. Some parents separate because of the presence of sickle cell children in their marriage. The economy of the average family is drained by the high cost of managing one or more sickle cell members. Most of the sickle cell sufferers die from poor management of their health condition. While majority of sickle cell anemia sufferers die as children and as teenagers, those who grow to be adults die at the peak of their youthfulness. An example is the recent date of Dr. Chukwudi Egwuatu.
So far no cure or solution has been found for sickle cell anemia. What are required to end the scourge are information and discipline. Many people are not aware of their genotypes. Some University graduates are still ignorant of their genotype. It is only now that some efforts are made at some circles to determine genotype before marriage. This accounts for the prevalence of sickle cell in our society. Sometimes a young man and a lady who have been dating for years come to the realization that both of them are AS after the man had proposed. In desperation some people go to the extent of falsifying genotype results in other to marry. And such couples pay dearly for it because in most cases, their resources in marriage are finished before the couples themselves die in penury. The best approach to eradication of sickle cell disease is by enlightenment keyed into the education system from nursery to University level such that any child growing up in our environment knows his or her genotype as the person knows his or her age. This will be easily achieved if genotype is keyed required of every child registering into any level of academic institution. Since it is not yet possible to determine the genotype of a child at birth, the earliest time to demand information on genotype status of a person is at the point of registration into Nursery/Primary School.
I understand that a bill titled Sickle Cell Disease (Control and Eradication) is at the floor of the Anambra State House of Assembly. It has passed its second reading, perhaps awaiting a little more push to go through. The law when passed will among other things make it mandatory for all Anambrarians to know their genotype from their earliest days. The law may not have retroactive effect of forcing all aspects of it but at least when passed into law it will be a more hopeful strategy in the structured fight against the disorder. May this painful death of Dr. Chukwudi Egwuatu add to the push the Honorable House needed to pass the bill into law. I am quite confident that the Executive Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willy Obiano would not hesitate to sign such a bill into law when it comes to his table.
Meanwhile we commend the efforts of Christian Churches who are insisting of establishing genotype status before sanctioning the marriage of intending couples. Many future families have been saved the heartache of serious suffering and multiple deaths by the mutual disclosure of genotype of intended couple which ended in no marriage between those who would have given birth to sickle cell disordered children. A stitch in time saves nine. May the soul of Dr. Egwuatu rest in the Lord and may Anambra State be wiser for it.
By Rev. Fr. Dr. Cosmas Okechukwu Ebebe, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Awka; lecturer at the Catholic Institute of West Africa, Port Harcourt, Nigeria; Fellow of the Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) and the immediate past Chairman of Anambra State Chapter of the Nigerian Institute.