Foundation gives amputees new lease of life
To its 52-year-old founder, Dr. Irene Olumese, the gesture, borne out of her years of agonising experience between life and death, makes every pain she has passed through over the years worth it, as seeing smiles on their faces gives her new life.
At the foundation’s donor and partners appreciation luncheon that held in Ikeja, Lagos, to showcase the foundation’s exploit with funds from donors, Irene disclosed that the charity body was set up due to the trauma and pain she suffered for over 22 years, for the benefit of those who lost their limbs and are incapable of procuring an artificial one.
Recounting her traumatic experience during the luncheon, Irene said: “I lost my two legs six years ago, in April 2013. It wasn’t an accident, I didn’t fall down, it was just a result of the complications of another disease entirely. I had a chronic respiratory disease for 20 years. I coughed non-stop everyday for 20 years. At the end of the 20 years, my doctors told me they had exhausted all options for me to continue to live except they change my lungs.
“So, what they did was to look for a lung donor for me. But of course you cannot donate and live. The person who donated had committed to donate to me before he died. It was free, so, I went for the surgery in Switzerland when they found somebody who was compatible with me. It took three and a half years for them to find somebody who had the same compatibility with me because you have to match everything so that your body doesn’t reject the lungs.
“There were several times when I saw death and thought that it was going tohappen. But I also had to keep telling myself that I will live in the land of the living. I choose to live, I want to fight to live because I want to see the goodness of God in the land of the living. It has not been easy. It was not an easy walk at all. There were several times when my situation was so bad that I could not leave my bedroom. I was on oxygen 24 hours of the day. For the last three years, I had to be on ventilator for my lungs to breathe.”
Though the surgery was successful, she soon developed severe complications shortly afterwards, that took her into coma for four weeks. “By the time I finally woke up from coma, I was told that things had really got bad. There wasn’t enough blood circulation to all parts of my body. I was told that there was not enough supply to my hands and legs and as a result they’ll have to amputate both.
“I mean after 20 years of living with this problem, to now be told that you have new lungs, but have to lose both hands and legs was quite tough for me. But I just trusted that God had a good plan for me and that everything works together for my good. Miraculously my hands recovered. I learnt to write again with my hands, but my legs did not recover, so they had to be amputated.”
In the process of trying to regain her life, which took her almost a year, Irene, who spent most of her life working with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), after a working career at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, said the idea of setting up a foundation came to her, to benefit all people who have lost their limbs and are unable to procure the prosthetic limbs. “Mine cost almost $30,000. I felt we could do something that’s much cheaper for people here.
“So, I decided that I would take care of amputees who cannot afford to buy prosthesis. So, with my friends, husband and myself, we set up the foundation.
“We did the first charity walk in 2015 in Geneva where I did the lung transplant. Now, we are doing charity work in over 15 cities around the world. We ask our friends to sponsor us that we are working for a cause; we are looking to provide a set of limbs for people who cannot afford it. So, till date, we have been able to provide prosthesis for 34 amputees in Nigeria in five years.
“So after five years of work, we thought it was good to come together and bring the key people who had been our partners and sponsors to appreciate them. But we still need money to be able to provide for others waiting in the line.”
Irene, who said beyond prosthesis issue, amputees and people living with disability face other challenges, said the Nigerian environment is not disability friendly. “We can’t enter into buildings. We can’t go to toilets because almost everywhere is not disability friendly. It’s difficult for disabled persons to move around.”
She advised government at all levels, to act fast in ameliorating the suffering of disabled people. “There is a significant number of disabled persons who can be productive in this country if the environment is sensitive to their situations. They can add value to this country if things are put in place. These are what people with disabilities are asking for, not pity.
“For those with disabilities who think it is the end of the world, they must never give up hope,” she advised.