- Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh was a great Nigerian physician who sacrificed her life to prevent the spread of Eboloa virus in Nigeria in 2014
- The Ebola which break out in Nigeria in 2014 through a Liberian diplomat, Patrick Sawyer, took Nigerian government unawares but cost the government a fortune to contain
- Stella Adadevoh, who prevented the index case from going out of the hospital was infected but after much battle to rescue her, she died on October 19, 2014 at age 58
“Don’t worry, son. This thing is not going to kill me, but I am very proud of you.” Those were the last words of Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh to her son about 10 days before she died.
The name definitely rings a bell for many, but for those whose brains might still be having a couple of fuzzy moments deciding who she is, Dr. Ameyo Stella Shade Adadevoh is the name of the Nigerian physician who risked her life to protect the country from a full-fledged Ebola outbreak in 2014.
Born on 27 October 1956, she is an offspring of the illustrious Adadevoh family of the Volta region of Ghana, though half Nigerian. She is said to be the great grand-daughter of Herbert Samuel Macaulay forefront nationalist from her paternal lineage, and grandniece of Nigeria's first president Nnamdi Azikiwe from her mother’s side.
By the age of 24, she had already graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree from the University of Lagos College of Medicine where her father, Babatunde Kwaku Adadevoh, was a renowned physician, distinguished scientist, lecturer, author, and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos.
He also served as a consultant and advisor to numerous international organizations such as the World Health Organization and several United Nations agencies and commissions. She proceeded to do her Fellowship in Endocrinology at Hammersmith Hospital of the Imperial College in London. She then joined First Consultants Medical Centre in Obalende, Lagos, Nigeria where she worked for twenty-one years and became the Lead Consultant Physician and Endocrinologist.
Despite being female, she did not hang behind the background but was at the forefront of many health causes, being a member of the Nigerian Medical Association, Medical Women Association of Nigeria, British-Nigerian Association, Endocrine and Metabolism Society of Nigeria, Association of General and Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria and National Postgraduate Medical College.
She served as a Non-Executive Director of Learn Africa Plc and a writer for the first-ever “Ask the Doc” column in Today’s Woman Magazine, among so many others. Couple of years before the Ebola case, that was in 2012 she was also the first doctor to diagnose and alert the ministry of health about the spread of H1N1 (swine flu) into Nigeria.
As stated by her son, Bankole, she decided to move back to Nigeria to continue her career because she didn’t want to stay in England. She always said that she wanted to be here to make an impact on the health care system. She was selfless and extremely dedicated to her profession.
She was there seven days in a week. She would even do house chores for her patients and go on house calls for free. Even those who couldn’t afford to pay for the health care, she had a tab at the hospital, she would give free medical care or tell them to put it on her bill and she would pay for it.
Recounting the Ebola case, her only son Bankole recalls that Patrick Sawyer, who had flown into Nigeria from Liberia to attend a conference had fallen ill and was taken to First Consultants because the general hospitals were on strike. When he got there, he was first treated for malaria on a Sunday. “That weekend was my dad’s 60th birthday and my mum wasn’t in the hospital. We were all at home celebrating.
"On that Monday, she went to the hospital and saw him. Immediately, these were her own words to me, she said she was very disturbed, because it looked as if blood was seeping through his skin. She said she knew it was not malaria. When she asked him where he had been and he said Liberia, she immediately suspected it could be Ebola,” he said.
Notably, she had done her research on Ebola after hearing about it on the news a couple of months earlier, and had noted that Nigeria was not prepared for an outbreak. There were no protocols, processes or equipment in place within the health system to deal with an Ebola patient so Dr. Adadevoh did what she could with the limited resources she had in the hospital.
Nigeria had no isolation facility at the time and the infectious diseases hospital in Lagos was not functional, so she worked with officials to create an isolation area in the hospital to continue his treatment. With this in mind, she refused to let him go despite pressure from the Liberian officials that she was holding him against his will, insisting that he had a hemorrhagic disease which was infectious.
Being the thorough clinician she was, Dr. Adadevoh questioned Mr. Sawyer about his worsening symptoms and although he denied having contact with anyone with Ebola, she immediately contacted the Lagos state and federal ministries of health and got him tested.
While waiting for the test results, the pressure was mounting from the Liberian government officials that she discharge him so he could attend the ECOWAS conference. She refused. They proceeded to threaten to sue her for kidnapping and a violation of human rights (holding him against his will because she did not have a confirmed diagnosis) but she held her ground.
Dr. Ada Igonoh, a co-physician and colleague to Adadevoh recalls the day he died: “At 6:30am, Friday July 25, I got a call from the nurse that Patrick Sawyer was completely unresponsive. Again, I put on the protective gear and headed to his room. I found him slumped in the bathroom. I examined him and observed that there was no respiratory movement. I felt for his pulse; it was absent.
“We had lost him. It was I who certified Patrick Sawyer dead. I informed Dr. Adadevoh immediately and she instructed that no one was to be allowed to go into his room for any reason. Later that day, officials from WHO came and took his body away. The test in Dakar later came out positive for Zaire strain of the Ebola virus. We now had the first official case of Ebola virus disease in Nigeria. It was a sobering day.”
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Subsequently, all medical personnel who had contact with him were quarantined based on high risks and low risks. They were isolated and placed under close monitoring and treatment, even though none of their family members were allowed to come close to them. According to Bankole, her son: “My dad and I went to the centre at Yaba every day, but we were not allowed to come close to her. At first, we could come close to the window to see her, but eventually, we were not even allowed near the window. I didn’t see her for about 10 days while she was in there.
“The last time I saw her face-to-face was the day I went to the centre to give her footwear and her iPad. She was physically very weak. This was someone I had never seen fall sick in my life. I took all the stuff to her and put it through the door, she had to go and collect it because I couldn’t go into the room. We spoke through the window, I was crying. But she was adamant, she said: “Don’t worry, son. This thing is not going to kill me, but I am very proud of you.” Those were the last words she told me. This was about 10 days before she died.”
Dr. Igonoh who was also among those quarantined recalls the sober moments before Adadevoh died: “The following night, Dr. Adadevoh was moved to our isolation ward from her private room where she had previously been receiving treatment. She had also tested positive for Ebola and was now in a coma. She was receiving I.V. fluids and oxygen support and was being monitored closely by the WHO doctors. We all hoped and prayed that she would come out of it. It was so difficult seeing her in that state. I could not bear it.
“She was my consultant, my boss, my teacher and my mentor. She was the imperial lady of First Consultants, full of passion, energy and competence. I imagined she would wake up soon and see that she was surrounded by her First Consultants family but sadly it was not to be.”
She died on August 19, 2014 at age 58, alongside a pregnant Nurse Justina Ejelonu, and the ward maid, Mrs. Ukoh. About 4 health workers died in the Ebola saga but she was particularly singled out because her heroic act of standing up against the world diplomats and their threats, was the only reason why all 20 Ebola cases in Nigeria were traced to a single path of transmission originating with the first (index) patient.
This was particularly what differentiated the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria from the outbreaks in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Due to her actions, Nigeria was able to contain the virus and the World Health Organization declared Nigeria Ebola-free on October 20, 2014.
One of the four health workers who survived was Dr. Ada Igonoh, who was initially the attendant physician to Patrick Sawyer before she related his unresponsive case and test results to her colleague Dr. Adadevoh who waded in and took charge of the situation, streamlining the number of health workers attending to Sawyer and ensuring that they all donned their protective gear. This may not have been the case if Mr. Sawyer ended up in a different hospital or under the care of a different doctor who could not take the pressure.
“I remember my colleagues who we lost in this battle. Dr. Adadevoh my boss, Nurse Justina Ejelonu, and the ward maid, Mrs. Ukoh were heroines who lost their lives in the cause to protect Nigeria. They will never be forgotten,” says Igonoh.
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