LABORATORY SCIENTIST ENCOURAGES TWO WITH SS TO MARRY!
Joseph Adeyele Titilope (popularly known as JAT), 62, is a well-known laboratory scientist in Lagos State, Nigeria. His influence straddles Ijebu Ode, Ogun State, where, in 1983, he established the first privately owned medical lab. In a country where half-baked laboratories exacerbate the sickle cell conundrum by incompetence, the JAT Laboratory chain stands out like a lone star in the dead of night.
JAT always wanted to study medicine but destiny, masquerading as lack of means, thwarted that and channeled his opportunities towards the parallel filed of laboratory medicine. Two years after leaving Badagry Grammar School, a lecturer at the Laboratory Department of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) helped him get a job at the same Department. A few years later, he began a work-study programme for a degree in Medical Laboratory Science, and graduated in 1982.
Children’s Emergency Room (CHER)
Of all the years he spent at LUTH before his voluntary retirement to go into private business, the period he was on posting to CHER, the Children’s Emergency Room, is seared into memory.
There, at CHER, children with all sorts of acute and chronic conditions are admitted, with shaken parents agonizing over the fate of their charges. He came across legions of sickle cell cases, the majority the result of ignorance among couples of every educational status. A handful of cases emerged from willfulness, opportunism, naivety and deliberate falsification of genotype.
The long experience of seeing children suffer the ignorance or otherwise of their parents sets JAT firmly against marriages between couples at risk for producing offspring with sickle cell.
A number of churches and mosques in Lagos State do send couples planning marriage to JAT Labs for screening for various conditions including pregnancy,
HIV and sickle cell. Whenever he comes across couples at risk for the latter, he counsels them straight from the heart.
After a talk about the statistical chances of producing a child with sickle cell, the anxieties of raising one (or more) if it comes along, the constant pressures on emotions, finances and marital stability – not to mention the suffering of innocence – JAT summarizes by saying – ‘better a broken engagement than a bitter divorce.’ In his practice JAT has seen many marriages walloped or axed down by sickle cell.
The fact that carrier couple may not even produce a single child with sickle cell holds no water with this lab scientist.
‘Why take a risk,’ he asks, ‘why play roulette with the health and happiness of your own child?’
It is said that in a sickle cell-endemic country such as Nigeria, every laboratory practitioner sooner or later comes under pressure to cook lab reports. Clients have attempted to bribe JAT to issue papers saying they did not harbour the sickling trait. At LUTH a female medical student once pleaded with him to give her a lab report affirming she was AA so she could marry her wealthy boyfriend with the AS genotype. Of course professional ethics would not allow him to descend so low.
For a man who believes sickle cell should be avoided, JAT goes out of his way to make friends with and employ those challenged by the condition. Many employers of labour don’t want them, he says, but I do. He does not stop there – he encourages them to be the best they can be.
Again you would have thought that a man who frowned on carrier unions would scream blue murder at the very idea of full sickle cell marriages. Not JAT.
In 2002, JAT literally encouraged a man and a woman with sickle cell to get married! They were professionals, the man a banker and the woman an accountant, both in their late 30s.
‘I observed that they liked each other’s company,’ JAT recalls. ‘After watching them for close over two years, I summoned the both and said, ‘why don’t you two lovebirds get married?’’
Encouraging two with sickle cell anaemia may appear scandalous to many but JAT’s reasoning is based on the idea, contrary to popular norms, that the primary objective of marriage is companionship.
‘The cardinal objective of marriage is companionship,’ JAT reasserts, ‘not procreation.’
Indeed, but what if the SS couple had misinterpreted his moral support to mean they could go ahead and procreate like others couples?
‘Folks with sickle cell are often extra sensitive about making a child go through what they experienced.’ says JAT, ‘They are usually the ones postponing marriage – rejecting suitors – till they find someone of a suitable genotype.’
JAT believes that as African societies evolve to a higher level of thinking, having children as an all-important adjunct to marriage would be de-emphasized.
It is possible, he says, to have a happy fruitful and fulfilled marriage without having children. And there’s always the option of adoption for those who do not want – or cannot have – children of their own, JAT concludes.