Oluwatobi Lala: Workaholic Biomedical Scientist

‘I Am Something Of A Workaholic,’

– Tobi Lala, biomedical scientist, University College Hospital, Ibadan, Nigeria

At a time when genetic newborn screening was still in the realm of scientific possibilities, it is rare indeed for anyone with SCD to be so diagnosed shortly after birth, but that was exactly what happened to Oluwatobi Kehinde Lala and his twin sister, Taiwo Lala, in 1981. Their parents must have taken to heart the caveat by doctors that, having previously produced a child with sickle cell, it was possible that subsequent offspring might be similarly affected. The family now had three children with HbSS in a row. Only the first-born and the last-born were spared.

The twins were six when Taiwo passed away.

‘They used to tell me my sister had travelled abroad,’ Lala recalls, ‘I did accept what they said, but a part of me knew she was no more.’

In primary school and in secondary, absence was the rule rather than the exception. Yet Lala remained a first class student.

In primary school, brilliance earned Lala a measure of respect from the teachers and the headmaster; but in secondary, at Methodist Grammar School, Bodija, Ibadan, the principal was indifferent and constantly picked on the hapless student for a dressing down.

‘Mrs O. taunted me in front of the teachers and fellow students about my yellow eyes,’ Lala recalls. It is eighteen years since he graduated, yet the biomedical scientist recollects as though it was yesterday.

‘That’s a woman I shall never forget.’

Lala is so dedicated to his work at the University College Hospital that he has the reputation of a workaholic. His hours are long and the work both demanding and hazardous. He routinely works on highly infectious pathogens to assist clinicians in arriving at an accurate diagnosis and treatment modalities for a patient.

‘At work or at home,’ he explains, ‘I try to make the most of my time, put in my best. Sickle cell crises can intrude when you least expect.’

Whenever the unexpected happens, Lala, 35 has understanding colleagues to carry on until he returns to the duty post.

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