A DOCTOR IN MY COUNTRY
The lyrics of the song have stayed. After all these years, they have stayed. The song was the delight of school children who sang it with such vibrancy, their happy laughter echoing. To many of them, it was just a song with a melodious tune, which brought colour to their childhood games. But not all of them dismissed it in so casual a manner.
One little boy sang the song and its meaning sunk into his brain. It registered there and carved a pathway for his career. That boy, now a professional in his field, acted out the lyrics of the song and became a blessing to the people around him.
This little boy of old, now addressed as Dr. Benjamin Oluwatosin Olowojebutu, spoke to TNN (The New Nigerian) online publication, through a podcast, about his lofty dreams. He introduced himself as the executive director and founder of BOF (Benjamin Olowojebutu Foundation), which was set up to use medical skills and resources to take healthcare to indigent people in the unreached parts of Nigeria and Africa.
He started the foundation after he had an accident. A drunken driver crashed his car and he broke his leg in three places. At the hospital, he was left on the floor for five hours, to die. As he struggled to live, God told him to turn his pain to passion. He obeyed and started the foundation, which is based on the positive quality of love. Benjamin believes that love is the greatest quality anyone can spend and money is just a perception.
He spoke of his family background, where he is the first child of his parents. They had difficulty having kids and went to a mountain in Akure, where they lived, to pray. God answered them and he was born, that’s why he was named Oluwatosin – God is worthy to be worshiped. Benjamin described his parents as godly people. His dad taught him to show love to people and make a positive impact on his community. His mum made him solve 15 math’s questions every day, to make him an excellent student. From both parents, he learned the value of hard work and how to avoid taking shortcuts. The focal point of his life became knowledge and hard work.
These values trailed him from his early years of education and continued when he went to the University of Lagos to study medicine and surgery. The values made more meaning to him after he graduated. He learned how to love the medical profession, before money. He realized that the nobility of the profession should come before money because that quality will affect how skills are deployed for medical issues.
He realized the value of these qualities when he had that accident. He was abandoned on the floor and the nurses there told him there was no bed, so they could not admit him. His wife sent a message to the WhatsApp group of his classmates and they swung into action, to save his life.
Dr Benjamin saw the deficiencies of the Nigerian Healthcare Sector and decided to dedicate his life to helping as many sick people as he could. He went to many places in the country and was shocked by what he saw. Some communities have not seen doctors in years; some villages have no doctor, nurse or midwife there. He met women who had fibroids for 25 years and were just waiting to die as well as communities that are far away from the main town and have no access to healthcare.
The sight of so many women who had fibroids made him decide to focus more on performing the surgeries. Dr Benjamin described fibroids as non-cancerous benign tumors that grow in the womb of women and can grow to the size of four basketballs, making some women look like they are carrying four kids. The tumours cannot spread to other parts of the body but can cause problems. If a fibroid rest on the urethra, which connects the kidney to the bladder, it blocks urine from coming down to the bladder, and urine stays up in the kidney, because of the big mass of fibroid blocking it. It’s predominantly found in black people –Africans, Black Americans, Black Hispanic. No one knows why, and it is a major cause of infertility and miscarriage. He lamented the fact that education about fibroid is limited. Most people rely on social media information, which may not always be correct. Fear and lack of funds are two major problems of women with fibroids. Fear that they might die during or after the surgery, and lack of funds, to pay for the surgery.
Benjamin spoke in passionate tones of how God is backing the vision and helping his foundation to produce results. When he travels with his team to some of the communities, sometimes they can spend up to 35 hours on the road, and have not recorded any accident or kidnapping. Once, he performed 201 surgeries in 11 days and slept for only 2 hours for those 11 days, but the team experienced joy that lives were saved and the people in the communities were grateful and prayed for them.
Dr Benjamin revealed what inspired him to read medicine. The idea came from his childhood days when he played with his friends. There was a song that they used for entertainment. He sang the song again, with nostalgia ringing in his voice.
I am a doctor in my country
Some of you know me well
If you look at me up and down
You will know that it’s true.
He fell in love with the medical profession from that point and made up his mind to become a doctor. He read his biology textbook from cover to cover, still singing the doctor song, and believed that he was called to be a medical doctor.
Dr Benjamin was blessed to be taught by professionals during his undergraduate years. He admired them; was thrilled by their mastery of the subjects they taught and desired to be like them. With time, he began to exude the aura of professionalism that they had, when he entered a place to diagnose what was wrong with people. He learnt and mastered how to get an intravenous line, to set drip for a patient. He was so good at it that if everyone else around failed to get the line, he was called to the scene and he found the spot in the patient’s body, to set the line.
Benjamin told TNN how he gets funds for the foundation’s charity work. He is the medical director of Twinnex Medical Centre which offers affordable quality care and 80% of the profit made from there goes to the foundation, for the free surgeries. He added that the foundation does not get external support, but the profit from the hospital helps to fund the surgeries.
He stated that the foundation has sent help to states like Akwa Ibom, Ondo, Oyo, Cross River, Rivers, Delta and Lagos. The impact of the work carried out by the foundation has made people refer to it as ‘a place of grace,’ but there is need for support, so they can reach more people. They have reached out to banks, churches and got no support, but are still hopeful. They have not been to Northern Nigeria, but hope to get more support and send help to those areas.
Dr Benjamin spoke of the activities of quacks who sell fake drugs and prey on gullible persons. There is also the case of unqualified personnel handling surgical procedures. He suggested that people who want to undergo surgeries should ask questions, to avoid casualties. The patient should find out how often the doctor performs surgeries – someone who has done 30 fibroid surgeries in a week and another person who has done one fibroid surgery in two months, have different levels of skill. There is a need to ask questions, about how many surgeries the doctor has done, the success rates, and the types of complications encountered. The patient should know the cost of the surgery, get a breakdown of expenses, find out if there is a blood bank, how long he or she will stay at the hospital, and arrangements made for the usual period and any extra days. The doctor feels that the success of a surgery is not in the aesthetics of the building but the passion, compassion, and skill of the doctor doing the surgery – quality, passion, and grace should be merged together
TNN heard more about the BOF Foundation, whose long-term goals are to have branches of the hospital, in six geopolitical zones in the country, reduce the mobility of sickness, improve quality of life and give people hope and joy. About the success of medical care in Nigeria, he is of the opinion that people should be educated about love for the country. The youth should come together to do things for the country, not ask for what the country can do for them because to cause change, love has to come into play. Though Dr Benjamin now has a limp and used a cane for four years because of the accident, instead of being bitter or depressed, he has channeled his skills to help the nation. The leaders need to have this love. If they love the people, they would give them good roads, schools, and quality and affordable healthcare. Healthcare is the baseline of a nation’s GDP, so the government has to educate the people and formulate the right policies.
The doctor in his country, who is an Arsenal fan, spoke about his family. His wife walked into his office and he felt she can take care of him. They were both recovering from heartbreak and decided to heal together. He shared the vision of the foundation and his wife supported him. The first place they went to, after the accident, was Gboko in Benue State. He went there in clutches, and did 33 surgeries within 3 days, with his wife solidly behind him. She is the secretary of the foundation and they have three children, aged 10 years, 5years, and 1 year.
The foundation has been involved in over 6500 free surgeries for hernia, glaucoma, breast lump, fibroid, and lipoma, which is a cosmetic surgery to remove painless swelling. TNN promised to spread the podcast on social media, to raise awareness about the foundation.
Speaking with patriotism in his voice, the doctor said, ‘I am helping the Nigerian dream come true. I have been urged to come to the Diaspora and use my skills there, but I always say I have an assignment in my country.’
Indeed, he has an assignment. One that has made him not only a blessing to the people around him, but also to his nation, which he has made a commitment, to serve.
Dr Benjamin is a doctor in his country, Nigeria, and a truly committed one.
TNN encountered another health professional who specializes in regenerative medicine. Dr David Omotayo Ikudayisi is a Nigerian from Ekiti State, who was born in Oshogbo and studied abroad. He had heard of BEA, Bureau for External affairs, and went there to get a scholarship for his study overseas, because the University of Ibadan, where he was admitted, was on strike. He was on the merit list for medicine, at the University of Ibadan, though his first choice was aeronautical engineering. Dr David went to USSR, now Russia, to read Medicine, learnt the language in one year, spent six years in medical school, learned cosmetic surgery in Paris, and went to America.
He discovered that in America, anyone who did not study there had to take the USMLE, United States, Medical Licensing Exam, and undertake the CSA, clinical skills assessment, to practice medicine there. He worked as a surgical assistant at a cosmetic surgery Centre in Philadelphia, where he learned facelift, tummy tuck, liposuction, breast segmentation and others, which made him develop an interest in regenerative medicine.
Dr Omotayo described regenerative medicine as the hope for what used to be incurable diseases, though some parts of it are still in the research stages. It is a relatively new area of medicine – about 20 years in existence. He defined it as a field of medicine that uses cells and body tissues to repair, regenerate, rejuvenate and restore damaged organs, bringing things back to normal, from patient to patient or from donor to patient, without using drugs.
Dr Ikudayisi went back to his secondary school days at Federal Government College, Idoani, in western Nigeria. He spoke with pride of his school which usually came out tops in interschool debates and had good teachers, who motivated the students to excel – qualities that moulded him into what he is today.
After his fellowship training, Dr David Ikudayisi stayed in Florida and went into private practice. He took care of cancer patients, and this exposed him to taking care of people with pain. The pain management aspect of his practice exposed him to regenerative medicine. He found that instead of taking drugs to heal knee and hip pain, doctors can use patient’s blood, an autologous means from me to you, no side effects, no risk of rejection, a PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) therapy. He found out that regenerative medicine can be used to make people look younger, for bone marrow transplants, to improve sexual performance; stem cells can treat acute stroke, diabetes, arthritis, spinal cord injury, autism, cerebral palsy, and others. In other words, when orthodox medicine says there is no hope, regenerative medicine says there is still hope. According to the doctor of regenerative medicine, the stem cell therapy is clinically safe, and he has done ground-breaking surgeries in that field. He presented testimonies of people whose cases, like multiple sclerosis, were deemed hopeless and regenerative medicine brought them to life. Incremental improvement, not cure, is the term used in regenerative medicine.
Doctor David was saddened by the fact that some Nigerians do not seek medical care early, until it is too late, while in America, there is preventive medicine, in form of medical check up. For medical cases, the earlier the ailment is reported, the better. A lady had a stroke and was paralyzed on one side, unable to talk. He treated her on Friday and she was able to talk by Saturday. His spoke of his motivation for setting up a Regenerative Medical Centre in Nigeria, which is to assist people who needed his services. He did not come back home to compete with any of his medical colleagues.
David, the TNN representative, asked the doctor about the case of a friend’s son who has cerebral palsy and the doctor gave an elaborate description of the illness. He stated that in the case of cerebral palsy, a section of the brain is dead because of lack of oxygen or due to jaundice infection, contracted during the person’s birth. Regenerative medicine reduces the inflammation around the brain, or tones it down and there is improvement from that reduction, then the adult stem cells do cell-to-cell communication, telling the cells around the dead area to multiply, to differentiate, to replace the function of the dead tissue, then slowly, over months or years, to absorb the dead tissue, so the size will shrink. The improvement is gradual and needs the continual transplantation of stem cells. It takes an average of 9 to 12 months to get functionality, since it is a dead area of the brain that the medical treatment is trying to revive. It is not a one or two-time treatment It requires about 8 sessions, considering the age of the boy.
Doctor David revealed that stem cell treatment is not cheap, and he is trying to get help from medical agencies abroad. Some of them have given good discounts (20% 30% and 50%) for the regenerative medicine requirements, but the naira exchange rate does not make the discount worth it.
He sounded hopeful about a company that he is trying to bring to Nigeria, to set up stem cell shops, so that the regenerative medicine requirements will be affordable. He has tried to devise a method to mix a vaccine with stem cell from human body fat, to cure cancer, but it is still in the research stage.
Dr Ikudayisi spoke of how he met his wife at his younger sister’s wedding. They are both in the medical field and have three children.
Another champion in the Nigerian medical field. Who says Nigeria does not have talents?
Another health professional, Mr. Osho, from Edo State was interviewed by TNN. He spoke of how he got involved in public health after his bachelor’s degree, when he worked at Johns Hopkins. He had his master’s in public health, focusing on policy and systems, returned to Nigeria to see if he could apply the knowledge and experience, he had obtained, to improve Nigerian health care system. He was trained in health insurance, worked at a public hospital as a public health counsel and got a glimpse of the everyday life of Nigerians – what goes on, how they value their health and what makes them to get involved in the healthcare system.
The experiences were eye-opening for him and showed him what can be done to improve the Nigerian healthcare system. Then he met Professor Akintade, who shared his vision for the Nigerian health care system, which is to create significant impact across the health sector, regardless of the location, or the ability of recipients to pay, with him. He came on board the professor’s organization as program manager and started growing the program. It is in three different states, and they have established their presence in five different schools. They are hoping to expand to more states, to get more people to join the team, making health care accessible to every single Nigerian, regardless of where they are, and assisting government programs to achieve their health care targets. The program is called Health for Nigeria, and targets rural areas, which usually have little access to health care. So far, the impact of the program has reached Oyo and Ekiti States.
Mr. Osho reported that in Ekiti State, the program was funded by well-meaning Nigerians in Diaspora, and the team had to accommodate some requests from them, because they put in resources, so they should be happy with the results. A member of Professor Akintade’s alumni association was the permanent secretary, Ministry of Health in Ekiti State and she came on board, gave support and drafted letters to schools, to explain what the program is about. That started the process and the organization got good locations, thanks to people in the state, who helped.
Methodist Girls High School in Ekiti, was one of the schools reached by the Health for Nigeria program. The criteria for choosing it was that it is a public school in a rural area. The management of the school gave a list of their health needs and the organization set out to assist them.
Mr. Osho told TNN that whenever officials of the organization get to a school and are allocated a space, they make a structural assessment, check the roof, the ceiling and ventilation, because of COVID-19 protocols. They can repaint the place, for it to look presentable and fit to use for a medical place, get in equipment and furniture, usually two medical beds, a desk and chair, mosquito nets to prevent mosquito and insects from coming in when the windows are opened, put in locks for security, cabinets to store medication, provide scale, thermometer, blood pressure machine, sanitizer dispenser machine, blood glucose and blood sugar machine, eyechart, in case any students have eye issues, mattresses, pillows, pillowcases, get professional nurses with training in first aid, CPR and evaluating eyesight. These professionals help the students by dealing with immediate issues and stabilizing sick students before taking them to a Health Centre. They are in partnership with nearby health care providers to assist when the matter cannot be handled by them. If there are concerns, they ask for another favourable location.
Mr. Osho revealed that funding for the program comes primarily from the founder, Prof Akintade, well-meaning Nigerians, some non-Nigerians and friends and family also assist. There is transparency in disbursement of funds – the donors are told where the money is spent. The initiative is still in its infancy and needs people to have confidence in the programs and assist, while they hope to engage the assistance of large-scale program funders like WHO, DFID, USAID, to access their grants.
The initiative, as Mr. Osho said, has made more parents have confidence in the school system, because their children have better health care, and they can feel the impact of the program. Many students missed school in the past, because of basic health issues, that can easily be managed by the health care program.
TNN representative summarized the interview sessions by speaking about the scheme, the initiatives of the two other doctors and the goals of the online platform.
‘At TNN, we bridge the gap between Nigeria and Diaspora. Lots of people in the Diaspora have contacts that will listen to the podcast and get interested in the Health for Nigeria scheme. I hope they will make more impact. I must say I am impressed by this initiative. Every oak tree grows by planting a seed. You started with one community, which has grown to five, and you are still growing. It takes the love of a nation to do what you are doing. There is still hope for this nation. The resources of people in Unity schools, and other people in this generation are vast, and people want to give back. We can put their names on plaques, to give them recognition. Those who listen to this podcast, will be interested in this scheme and will want to contribute their quota. There is a small community in Ovia Local Government Area of Edo State, which is interested in the program. TNN will establish contact between Health for Nigeria and the head of the community in Ovia. We hope others will reach out and you can set up in other communities. We have decent people trying to make things work in Nigeria. Let us come together, to make things work in Nigeria.’
Very well spoken, I must add. A truly patriotic Nigerian. He had the opportunity to live abroad, but tackled the challenges he noticed, head-on. Nigeria may be bedevilled with challenges of poor electricity, kidnapping, terrorism, health care anomalies, high exchange rate and the likes, but there are still beautiful pictures we can paint of Nigeria. There are still beautiful stories we can tell, about Nigeria. Stories of people with great skills and hearts of gold. Like the three gentlemen featured in this article.
These three patriots, who can confidently sing the song, ‘I’m a doctor in my country,’ have shown that there is still a lot to celebrate, about Nigeria.