There is something infinitely remarkable about the West, it is the value they place on every human life and how much they appreciate those who ensure every life count. I remember the feeling of awe evoked by an article I read on the internet about twin Irish girls Amy Elliot and Katie who were born 87 days apart. According to reports, Amy Elliot was born about four months early on June 1, 2012; after her delivery, Maria Jones’ contractions stopped keeping Katie in the womb for another 87 days. Amy and Katie are holders of Guinness World Record for longest interval between the birth of twins.
CBS Reality Channel on DStv has series of episodes featuring stories about how doctors go the extra mile to save the lives of premature babies. These stories move many a-people to tears and invariably get us to respect these doctors and the premium they place on human life, not matter the size of the body. Conversely, not much is heard about all the efforts our own doctors put in to ensure the survival of preemies. We have been inundated many times with reports of neo-natal mortality caused by negligence and/or error on the part of medical practitioners but not much is heard about their conscientious colleagues whose work ethics are inspired by the Hippocratic Oath It is against this backdrop that I am dedicating this edition to celebrate the contributions of Dr. Mariya Mukhtar-Yola and her team of paediatricians to Ruby’s survival.
My first encounter with Dr. Mariya Mukhtar-Yola was on Thursday, October 8, 2009. I remember that at the time, Dr. Mukhtar-Yola’s ward round in NICU was on Wednesdays. I also remember that she did her rounds the previous day; but then, there she was again the very next day. And this time, her attention was on none other than my daughter. As at October 8, 2009, Ruby was 6 weeks and 6 days old; had had 4 blood (packed cells) transfusions; weighed about 600 grams and fed on 3 mls of breast milk every two hours. On that fateful Thursday, my heart skipped several beats when the intercom in the ‘mother’s room’ at the National Hospital rang and the message was for me to go into NICU for some kind of meeting with the Consultant Paediatrician in charge of my daughter.
But I was in the incubator room not too long ago and my daughter looked just fine, I thought within me. Had anything gone wrong? If so, why would it be the Consultant who would relay the information to me? With that thought, my apprehensions quickly translated to mere curiosity. Even with the obvious ease, my steps did not reduce in pace.
I got into the incubator room and Dr. Mukhtar-Yola started by thanking me for helping in easing the financial burdens of having preemies on some of the mothers. I am sure the incredulity I felt inside was evident on my face, (you see, I am an expressive person), for as I wondered if that was the reason she sent for me, she went on.
I do not remember verbatim what she said on that day but it was something like “We appreciate parents like you who do all they can to assist doctors in doing their job. I hear you and your husband have been very responsive”. I was glad that we were been appreciated for responsible parenting. It sure said a lot about what doctors and care givers expect from those of us at the other end of the spectrum in care giving. Then came the most vital information: Ruby had been on drugs and medications for almost seven weeks without showing commensurate level of improvement. Therefore, they were opting for a different method. The little girl was going to be off all forms of anti-biotics and intravenous saline. Instead, there would be an oral-gastric (OG) tube passed to her stomach over a period of time. In essence, a ‘drip’ would be passed, only that it was a drip of breast milk passed into Ruby’s stomach and not saline passed by cannula through her veins. We agreed it was worth trying. And that marked the beginning of a journey to progress on a very steady lane.
In the 80 days Ruby was in the neonatal intensive care unit of the National Hospital, Abuja, so many interventions were carried out on her. At the time we were there, through all of those 80 days, Ruby was the smallest and the sickest. Whilst many babies with seemingly better chances could not make it, Ruby was resilient and hung on. Dr. Mukhtar-Yola saw the courage in the small, battered body and together with her team, spent more time trying out one intervention after the other to ensure that Ruby got the support she needed to see her will through. Ruby is in school as I type because of Dr. Mukhtar-Yola’s tenacity, drive, support and going the extra mile for no extra cash reward. She couldn’t have done that alone; her team deserves praise too.
I recognise that there are many Nigerian doctors to whom their patients’ lives come first. I am especially thankful to paediatricians who do all they can to keep preemies alive in a country where prematurity account for 25% of neonatal mortality every year. (Dr. E.A. Disu, a Consultant Pediatrician at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital in “Challenges of Neonatal Care in Nigeria”).
It is my hope that someday, the activities of the likes of Dr. Mukhtar-Yola and how they care for preemies in NICU will be showcased on a global stage like CBS Reality does for their counterparts abroad. Surely, such caregivers need to celebrated.