'How I survived Ebola' – Dennis Akagha
He and his wife-to-be had lofty dreams of living fulfilled lives and raising wonderful children together. The fiance was two months pregnant and their traditional marriage had been fixed for October.
His fiancee, a graduate nurse, had just secured a job at First Consultant Hospital, Lagos. He too also just got a marketing job with an oil and gas company. She was reluctant to go to work on the first day she was expected to resume on account of ‘morning sickness’ (pregnancy symptoms) and he encouraged her.
She did! Lo and behold, her first duty and first patient to nurse on her first day at work was the late Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian-American, who brought the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) to Nigeria. And that decision put a full stop to the lofty dreams of a promising family. Welcome to the world of Mr. Dennis Akagha, the husband-to-be of late Miss Justina Ejelonu, the nurse, who contacted and died of the Ebola disease from Mr. Sawyer.
In an exclusive, explosive and passionate interview with Saturday Vanguard, Akagha, who contracted the disease from Miss Justina, was quarantined, treated, cured and discharged last week, spoke on how and why his fiancee died, how he contacted and survived the disease, how he was stigmatized and abandoned by co-workers and neighbours, and why victims must be given adequate care. He said perhaps, Justina would have survived with better care. Read on:
His thoughts on Ebola and late Justina
The truth is that Justina and I were not legally married, we were planning for our traditional marriage in October and she just got this job. She was a qualified graduate nurse and got the job at the First Consultant Hospital in Lagos. She resumed duty at the hospital on the 21st of July, while Patrick Sawyer was admitted at the hospital on the 20th.
He was her first patient. She was one of the nurses that nursed him. She was pregnant and so her immune system was weak, which made it easy for her to contract the disease. On that first day which was a Monday, she was having some pregnancy symptoms, but I just encouraged her to go because it was her first day at work. Sawyer was her first patient.
The next day, Tuesday, she didn’t work on Sawyer. Wednesday and Thursday, she was off. Then on Friday, Patrick Sawyer died. They didn’t know he had Ebola, it was three days later that they realized it was Ebola.
When did you know that she had contacted the Ebola virus?
It was after Sawyer died that she told me she nursed him but that she was on gloves. She even thanked God that she didn’t have direct contact with him. The fever continued and we thought it was just pregnancy symptoms and even when she went to her hospital, they confirmed the same thing. She took drugs and ran tests, yet it persisted. At night, she was usually cold and feverish and her body temperature was usually very high. At a point, I began to suspect that she had contacted the virus. I did some research on the disease and realised that she was having similar symptoms.
On the 14th of August, it became serious, she started stooling and vomiting. I had to clean up everything. All of a sudden, she started bleeding and she started crying that she had lost the pregnancy. I had to call her relatives and other people. The bleeding persisted and I had to clean up everything.
While you were attending to her did you wear gloves?
Initially I was not wearing gloves because I felt I had already been exposed to the virus. But later I cautioned myself and started wearing nylon on my hands. But I couldn’t stay away from her. I kept consoling her. Even when I took her to the hospital, she wanted to hold me and I told her to also consider my safety. She managed to hold herself and was able to find her way out in a pool of her blood. We chartered a taxi to the hospital, but first, I took her to First Consultant Hospital because I felt they should know more. When we got there, I was directed to IGH, Yaba. I told the taxi driver to take us there. The driver wasn’t even aware of what was going on as he took us to Yaba.
Justina was on the floor for 30 minutes before she was attended to. She was screaming that she was going to die. She was seriously bleeding, she had to come out of the taxi and lay on the floor. I ran around, trying to get doctors to attend to her. After everything, they took her in, took her blood samples and the following day, the result came out that it was Ebola. They washed the taxi with chlorine and also bathed the taxi driver and I with chlorine spray.
At that point, the taxi driver knew what was going on, he couldn’t even take me home because he was so scared. I had to look for somewhere to pass the night in the hospital. Early the next morning, I left the Hospital. The taxi driver is alive today, nothing happened to him. We have been checking on him and the last time we spoke he told me, he was fine.
So what happened after you got exposed to the virus?
14 days after I was exposed to Ebola, my temperature rose from the usual 35.2 degrees centigrade to 37.2. The Lagos State government gave me a thermometer the day I dropped Justina off at the centre. It took them two straight weeks to visit my home and to disinfect it. Before they came, I had already done the much I could do. I used bleach and detergent to clean the whole house, furniture and clothes inclusive.
After that, what happened?
We should be reminded and educated that a healthy person with Ebola virus cannot get anybody infected, except if the person is sick and totally down with the virus like what happened to Sawyer and to my late wife-to-be, Justina. I contacted the virus because Justina was very sick and I was taking care of her without any appropriate protection. When we knew what we were dealing with it was almost too late for me as I had already contacted the virus.
Since you had already visited the centre what else was done for you by the state?
The Lagos State government sent health professionals to check on me regularly to know how l was doing or if l had the signs of the virus manifesting. So they used to come around to check on me. At some point they created scenes with their visits. I was embarrassed and I was stigmatized. I complained severely to them that I didn’t like what they were doing. Then, one Saturday they visited again, I complained about the pains I was beginning to experience; excruciating pains around my waist. I started praying and asking people to pray for me.
Before this time, I believed in the Holy Communion, so I usually take it daily and do feet washing. I was going to the hospital daily to see late Justina. Initially, I was seeing her through the window and she would say I should take her out of the hospital. She complained of lack of care.
Perhaps, Justina would have survived the virus, if not for the state she was in. Her immune system was down because she was pregnant. Along the line, she had a miscarriage and lost the baby due to the Ebola virus disease.
The doctors, who were supposed to do an evacuation on her couldn’t do it because they claimed that an evacuation was too risky as she was heavily infected and may pass on the virus to another person.
Since nothing was done even after the bleeding had stopped, it led to more complications for her because the already dead foetus somehow got rotten in the womb and started a damaging process which led to further complication. Meanwhile, she was still stooling and vomiting and since nobody could dare to touch her, she was left on top of her excretions even when she couldn’t do much for herself due to her weak state. She was given her incisions and other drugs. I believe if some people survived Justina should have been one of them. At a point, I wished I was a doctor myself; I would have taken the risk of doing the evacuation because it really affected her.
When was the last day you saw Justina?
The last day I saw her, I had to go inside the ward because she was so unkempt as nobody attended to her. At that time, the quarantined patients were in the former facility where there was no water and she had messed up herself again. I had to look for water to clean her up, change her pampers and arrange her bedding. Since I was aware of what I was dealing with, I got myself protected while cleaning up the place. I made sure she looked better than when I saw her. Justina was shivering the last day I saw her, one side of her stomach was already swollen, and her legs were also swollen. I prayed for her. At a point, she needed oxygen and the hospital couldn’t provide it. Her friends had to provide it. That was the last day I saw her.
On Sunday Morning, I called her line like I usually did before visiting her, but she didn’t pick her calls. When I got to the hospital, I was told that she was dead.
Was she taking your calls while she was at the facility?
Yes, in fact she called me that last day and I knew she was going to give up, because she was saying some funny things. She said I should tell my people to go and meet her father so as to finalize our marriage plans, that she’s leaving that place.
From what you have said, were you not scared that you may die as well from the disease?
I personally don’t believe in taking medications. I had the mentality that I wasn’t sick. I told the government what I was experiencing. On the day they came to pick me up for treatment, all of a sudden, my temperature went back to normal. The shivering and pains were all gone. So they decided that they would be checking on me. But it got to a point people stopped selling things to me. It was as if the government got a report that I shouldn’t be around. So, they came and said I should go with them that they wanted to take my blood sample. I went with them and they took my blood sample, I was kept in a ward known as the ‘suspected ward.’
The result came out and it was positive. I was then taken to a confined ward. One of the doctors from UNICEF, a white lady told me that they were having issues with the results and that they would have to re-run the tests. They did the tests again and it was still positive. I told them that it wasn’t my result and that I was healthy. I was even doing my usual exercises (press-ups) every morning. I kept telling them that I wasn’t sick. They took my blood sample the third time. That night, they told me that I tested negative in the last result and that I don’t have any reason to remain there. That was how I was discharged.
While you were going through all these at the facility what happened to your job?
I was a marketer in an oil and gas company. I worked on commission basis, but at a point, I realized that people were not calling me and when I called they won’t pick my calls. Even the person that I report directly refused to pick my calls and also refused to associate with me. Justina and I just got our jobs, she got hers at First Consultant Hospital and I got mine as a marketer with the oil and gas company.
Do you think that the government or First Consultant Hospital should compensate Justina’s family?
Although, no amount of money they give to the family will bring her back I think the government owes Justina’s family a lot because she died trying to save a situation. Justina died in active service as her death wasn’t natural.
So how did your status change from positive to negative?
I was reading a book on healing and taking of the Holy Communion. So I learnt to take Holy Communion morning, afternoon and night. I also engaged myself in feet-washing every day before going to bed. The Almighty God saved me; the Holy Spirit healed me. It wasn’t as though l didn’t fall sick as l had direct contact with Justina but the Almighty God healed me. When I was discharged, I got to my house on Saturday evening and spent two hours the next day, Sunday, thanking God on my own. I didn’t go to church or anywhere because of the already established stigma but today I can confidently attend church activities because I guess they all know I’m free now. I know my faith and belief healed me. God also worked for me apart from the fact that my immune system is also working. I believe I got healed also because friends prayed for me.
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