‘People Still Think Those Living With Sickle Cell Can’t Live Long’– Abimbola Ogunmekan
Our greatest test is being able to help someone while going through our own storm. This is what Abimbola represents to the many lives she is saving through her WarriorStory Initiative; a nonprofit community of people living with sickle cell diseases.
Abimbola, being a sickle cell warrior herself is helping other warriors fight and win. Through her platform, she provides education, counseling, and advocacy for sickle cell health and shares stories of warriors with the aim of inspiring others and also provide free medical service for the first three months, after which patients can attend by paying a token as a monthly subscription to access care.
Abimbola, who holds a post-graduate diploma in Biomedical Engineering, decided to start up a business in health & technology called Toyo Meditech.
Toyo Meditechs provides sales, installation, maintenance, repairs, and training in the use of medical devices and equipment, as well as Hospital Facility Design and maintenance. She birthed this SME due to her keen interest in health and technology and her experiences as a regular hospital visitor
The beautiful warrior shares her inspiring story with me in this interview.
GROWING up, I always wanted to be in the medical field, in fact, I wanted to be a Medical Doctor, but as you can see I didn’t end up becoming a Medical Doctor. I remember always mixing “herbs” any time any of my family members was ill and trying to “treat” them lol… All the while growing up I didn’t know I have Sickle Cell Disorder, I just knew I had medications I had to take on a daily basis, my mum made sure I had to take them regularly and I remember I used to have pain episodes that most times landed me in the hospital but I dint know what it meant.
It wasn’t until I got admission into the university that I found out during the medical screening that was when I understood what the medications and the occasional pain episodes.
Thankfully my parents are comfortable enough to enable me access to good healthcare.
Inspiration behind Warriorstory Initiative & Toyo Meditech
I started WarriorStory Initiative as a way to get away. I had just finished my Post Graduate in Biomedical Engineering and I dint have a job but I had been a bit opened about my health condition on social media, so I used to get DMs from people asking questions like “I heard you guys die at a really young age”, “is it true your crisis ends at the age of 21?”, “I heard I can catch SCD by touching someone that has it”, etc; those DMs made me realize how much people were still ignorant about Sickle Cell Disorder, so I decided to use WarriorStory Initiative to educate people on this disorder, to inspire other SCD warrior as well as to create a safe space for SCD warriors so they know they aren’t alone in this battle.
For Toyo Meditechs, I studied Biomedical Engineering, and after school, before I got a paying job, I started volunteering for some hospitals to gain experience. I also realized I have a passion for it and I could start a business in it to keep myself busy till I got a paying job. I also started it because, as a regular hospital visitor, I experienced a lot of lapses in our healthcare system, like; non-functional machines, poor facilities, not enough professionals to handle medical equipment, long waiting time, etc, I wanted to find a way to promote using engineering/technology to better healthcare, hence; Toyo Meditechs.
Sickle Cell Disease sensitization
To be honest, we still need a lot more sensitization and awareness in Nigeria. A lot of people (even the educated ones amongst us) are not “health literate”; it’s not just Sickle Cell Disorders but other health conditions.
You’d be surprised a lot of people still think people living with SCD can’t amount to anything or can’t live long; I mean there are people living with sickle cell that are 30, 60, 70, 80 and even 90years. There’s Aunty Toyin Adesola who is over 50 years, there’s Mama Alakija, she is 94years, there’s also Bukola Bolarinwa, Oyesola Oni, Timi Edwin, Tobi Olusesi, Ibunkunoluwa Imabong-Abasi Ajayi, Ik Oleka, Halimat Mogaji, etc; these people are young and are doing very well for themselves in their varying careers and businesses.
Other projects and activities
I recently launched a multidisciplinary led sickle cell clinic. In the course of advocacy and sensitization, I realized a lot of warriors can’t access affordable healthcare services and the ones that can afford don’t want to attend clinics because of the long processes in the hospital. I gave it a thought and bounced the idea off with some friends in the medical field as well as a consultant hematologist who introduced me to other consultants in other areas of medicine that care for Sickle Cell patients.
The clinic allows SCD patients to have access to different consultants (ranging from hematologist, orthopedic surgeon, psychiatrist, psychologist, plastic surgeon, and ophthalmologist) in the same place and on the same day.
One Warrior story that has motivated the most
Hmmm…. I recently stumbled on a video where one of my favorite YouTubers; Sisi Ope opened up and shared her journey living with sickle cell. I could relate to every single experience she shared; from regular hospital visits, cancelling appointments/hangout last minutes, disappointing people, encounter with people that don’t understand, etc., but what inspired and motivated me is how she always picked herself up and bounced back, she didn’t let the condition put her down nor stop her from achieving whatever she wanted to achieve.
My job can be quite demanding sometimes, most times physically draining, like climbing fleets of stairs, supervising, facing Lagos traffic and the distance from home to work, etc, which can trigger a pain crisis but I’m learning to balance my health, knowing when to slow down and take a break.
On giving up
Yes, there has been a couple of times I felt like giving up, especially when I have crisis back to back, or my health gets in the way of me achieving some things, sometimes I just get tired of fighting, but I’m grateful for the wonderful support system I have been blessing with; they have always supported and encouraged me even when I feel like giving up.
Being a Woman of Rubies
I believe I’m a Woman of Rubies because my life, my work no matter how small or short has inspired at least one person and make them know that they can also do whatever they want despite living with Sickle Cell.
To Women living with SCD
LIVE and always do what makes you happy.
Living with Sickle Cell doesn’t mean you can’t get married nor have children or achieve your goals. These things will happen in their own time just believe.