‘You know NOTHING about sickle cell!’ – Young Medical Graduate Tells Paediatrics Professor

Dr. Segun George, MD Jaiyeola Clinic, Pedro-Bariga, Lagos, Nigeria

Six of his siblings lived with sickle cell anaemia

As a lad, Segun George could not put his finger on exactly what was wrong within his family. Yet he knew for sure something was wrong. There was something within the family dynamics which spelled pain, acute suffering, protracted illness and the Inevitable. Those under-currents pervaded the family atmosphere and would remain alive in the minds of the surviving children, now grandparents.

Ten children in all were born to the Georges, and six of them were with sickle cell anaemia. The family had no respite from crisis all year round. The four unaffected children, Segun being one of them, were in a way affected too, as they watched frozen and helpless, the many intense bouts of illness their siblings underwent. And no less the parents.

 

‘One day,’ George recalls in an interview with Sickle Cell News, ‘my father returned from a journey of several days. One of my siblings, a two-year old passed away a few hours earlier.

‘There was an eerie atmosphere at home when my father came in. He asked for a glass of water; and before he could drink, someone broke the news to him.

‘In his overwrought state of mind, my father screamed and crushed the glass of water in his hand – a feat he could not have performed in a normal state of consciousness.’

 

‘Genotype or no,’ Lesi replies with mild asperity, ‘you absolutely can’t deter people from marrying anyone of their choice – I thank God you’re not in a position of authority!’

The memory of siblings ill-used by sickle cell welled up in Dr. George’s memory. He was close to tears and anger when he turned sharply to the professor:

‘Sir, apart from treating people with sickle cell, do you have any close family member with the disorder?’

When Lesi replied, No (thinking, what an irrelevant question!), George retorted, ‘I’m sorry sir, but you know NOTHING about sickle cell!’

 

Little wonder Segun opted to study medicine, graduating in 1976 (Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria).

He had seen too much of sickle cell first hand. He could not take chances when it came to marriage.

‘My genotype is AS,’ he says, ‘and having witnessed so much, it would have been reckless of me to marry another carrier and risk bringing torture upon an innocent child – upon myself ultimately.

 

Sickle cell is – and will always be – a sore point with Dr. Segun George. One day, not long after he began his practice, he sat across the table from the renowned paediatrician, the late Professor Afolabi Lesi, and expressed the opinion that if he (George) were in position of authority, he would make it mandatory that all intending couples knew their genotype and its implications for their offspring. By this means, he imagined, people would think twice before venturing into unions which could doom innocent children.

But the erudite Professor Lesi would have none of it.

‘Genotype or no,’ Lesi replies with mild asperity, ‘you absolutely can’t deter people from marrying anyone of their choice – I thank God you’re not in a position of authority!’

The memory of siblings ill-used by sickle cell welled up in Dr. George’s memory. He was close to tears and anger when he turned sharply to the professor:

‘Sir, apart from treating people with sickle cell, do you have any close family member with the disorder?’

When Lesi replied, No (thinking, what an irrelevant question!), George retorted, ‘I’m sorry sir, but you know NOTHING about sickle cell!’

Dr. George well knows the disconnection between those whose only interaction with sickle cell and those who feel it at a personal level.

‘Who feels it,’ he says, ‘knows it better.’

4 Replies to “‘You know NOTHING about sickle cell!’ – Young Medical Graduate Tells Paediatrics Professor”

  1. If only Professor Lesi knew what help he would have rendered millions of families across Africa, he would have pioneered the compulsory test and counseling for intending couples. Many of us today wouldn’t know the pains of helplessly watching our children in agony.

  2. Dr. George was right then and now. If possible, there should be a law that forbid carriers of the S or C genotype from marrying each other. Such legislation would be difficult to pass in any clime because you can’t legislate “love”, the central cord that binds and brings about marriage. It should and must be left to individual discretion to determine whom to love, marry or birth children with. However, I have strong confidence that aggressive, consistent, simple health education about sickle for everyone can effectively influence people’s choice of whom to marry, Hb-genotype-wise.

    I am genotype AS myself, and I haven’t been forgiven by one of the best woman I should have married because I persistently refused to move our relationship proceedings to marriage because I COULD NOT FANTHOM GIVING BIRTH TO A CHILD WITH SICKLE CELL DISEASE, having seen first-hand and managed the pains and trauma that my patients with the disease suffer, and the limitless socioeconomic consequences for their family.

    My then Fiancé preached, appealed and prayed for me to leave that to chance, and I consistently told her that I could not knowingly take such action against my yet to be born child. How would I look him/her in the face and say I knew but, was too selfish. Coincidentally, my first son was born with genotype AS, with her mother AA. Apparently, I contributed the S and the mother contributed the A. Only God knows what would have happened if the mother had an S to contribute.

    Today, as in time past, I believe ignorance, selfishness and sometimes, carelessness, are the “real factors” perpetuating the high prevalence of genotype S in the population. Effective health education via every channel with strong policy advocacy is the most effect way forward.!

  3. In as much as it will be very difficult to enforce, legislating for a compulsory genotype testing needs to be considered in countries where SCD prevalence is high. SCD is not pleasant. No one has the right to give birth to a child who would know nothing but pain beyond imagination their entire life.

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