“What did I do to deserve all this?” That was the question three-month-old Chiemezie appeared to be asking, agonisingly, stirring and grimacing as his mother fights to cuddle him.
At his age, he ought to have begun flashing his early, toothless smiles. He ought to have begun bubbling and rearing to feel the world around him. But he knows none of that luxury, all because he has a hole in the heart. And a paediatric cardiac surgeon has warned that unless he undergoes surgery in the next three months, his chances of developing life-threatening complications are very high.
Chiemezie sucks his mother’s breast regularly. But the more he sucks, the thinner he grows. Every passing day, he loses weight and cries in an unusual manner. When he grows weary from his cries, his face goes bleary. He cries often, apparently in protest against his nature-imposed health status. And when he’s tired, he falls asleep – only to resume afterwards. When he is up, sometimes he is quiet and alone, lost in his colt, seemingly wondering what the future holds for him. For he has already started tasting the bitter pill of life all because he was born with a disorder that neither he nor his parents can explain where or how it all began.
At the moment, little Chiemezie urgently needs N4 million to undergo surgery in India. For him to live, the operation, according to an Indian paediatric cardiac surgeon, must be done urgently before he clocks six months. Failure to do that, he will develop life-threatening complications that would narrow down his chances of staying alive. But judging by the occasional ray of hope that flashes across his face, the infant is desirous of living. He wants as many as are moved by his condition to give him life.
When Chiemezie was born on April 9, 2013 at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba, his parents, Jude and Ifeoma Anakwe, were elated. Soon after his discharge, the couple headed home, floating in the euphoric wave that greeted the arrival of the new baby. They gathered friends and family members and named their baby Chiemezie (God has done it right) and formally welcomed him as the third product of their relationship.
Two weeks after, his mother took him back to the hospital for procedural, postnatal checks. After a curious session with the baby, doctors on duty discovered that he was breathing abnormally. They suspected there were some medical challenges storming inside his system like volcanic lava which might erupt if not dealt with early. So they told his parents and insisted that a series of tests must be carried out to enable them reach critical conclusions. Instantly, the couple hit the road running.
They quickly paid for the tests and took their baby to the laboratory technicians. Results, which were issued later, revealed a shock – baby Chiemezie has a hole in his heart. That discovery turned to be one too many and has the Anakwes facing a mountain as gargantuan as Mount Everest – the world’s tallest, freestanding mountain.
Recounting how the journey to the unexpected started for the family, Ifeoma told the reporter that she had Chiemezie safely. “That was on April 9, 2013 at LUTH. In fact, I had my two previous children there. Everything about his delivery was okay and we took him home happy. Then after two weeks, we returned to LUTH for postnatal checks without suspecting anything. It was when the doctors were examining him that they noticed that he was breathing fast. I didn’t notice that myself. So they referred us to the cardiology unit.
When doctors examined him, they suspected he had a heart problem. They tasked us to go off quickly and do three tests: x-ray, eco radiogram and ECG. Days after, the results were out. When doctors studied them, they told us that one of the three, the eco radiogram test, had dictated that he has a hole in the heart. “At birth, Chiemezie weighed 3.1kg. The second time he was weighed, his weight went down to 3.05kg; the third time, he weighed 2.8kg. He cries often, each time, his cry is low. When he cries, you notice that he is in pain. He breathes faster now than before and that is easier to notice,” she said.
Speaking about the development, Jude, Chiemezie’s father, recalled that when news of his son’s ailment was broken to him, he was confident that the condition was one of those health challenges the hospital could deal with. But as the days wore on, it increasingly dawned on him that the matter was getting out of hand.
His fears were further fuelled by the verdict returned by one of the medical experts, Professor C.A.N. Okoromah, a consultant paediatrician at LUTH, who handed out the diagnoses. He was also the one who strongly suggested that India remained the preferred destination for the surgery.
“When I heard of my son’s problem, I thought the hospital could handle it, but I was wrong. I only began to understand the depth of the problem when Professor Okoromah explained it to us in full. He said the disorder could only be corrected through surgery and the treatment was not available anywhere in the country. He said for the child to live, we needed to take him abroad quickly and suggested that we go to a hospital in India,” Jude recalled.
He said further: “This is the first time I’m hearing about this sort of ailment. I have heard about people going to India for one thing or the other, but I didn’t know that this is the sort of ailment that takes them that far. I have heard about Nwankwo Kanu Heart Foundation, but I didn’t know what they do. Please we are appealing to good spirited Nigerians to assist us come out of his predicament. The money involved in saving this boy is beyond me. We need help! Please we are appealing to good-spirited Nigerians to save my boy’s life,” he appealed.
Confirming the infant’s ordeal, LUTH issued the Anakwes with an introductory letter to enable them get assistance either from private individuals or hospitals anywhere around the world. It was titled: “Summary of Medical Report on Anakwe Chiemezie (Male/10 weeks.)”
The letter, which was signed by Professor Okoromah, acknowledged that the infant was a patient of the Paediatric Cardiology Unit of the hospital. It says: “Clinical evaluation indicated that Chiemezie has symthomatic congenial heart disease which was confirmed by echo cardiology to be an endocardial cushion defect with background down syndrome.
“Chiemezie requires further cardio vascular evaluation and possible open heart surgery to correct his heart abnormality in order to forestall irreversible and life-threatening complications from developing. Unfortunately, open heart surgery for children is currently not available in our hospital.” The letter requests for “any assistance that will facilitate surgical intervention at a centre with facility for cardiac surgery,” noting that LUTH would be handy to provide “further clarification or information that is required on Chiemezie.”
In an e-mail sent to Nigeria and made available to Daily Sun, Dr Robert Coelho, Director and Chief Paediatric Cardiac Surgeon in the undisclosed Indian hospital said: “I am happy to accept the patient (Chiemezie) for further evaluation and open heart surgery.”
He strongly suggested that “surgery for this child is advised at the earliest, before five to six months of age,” asserting that the infant would spend two weeks in the hospital before returning to Nigeria happy and healthy.
The Anakwes can be reached on 08033080134 or 08028409049. Those willing to help the family may also pay to Mr. & Mrs. Jude Mary Anakwe’s account at Diamond Bank. The account number is 0006991895.