By NBF News
Listen to article Despite the negativism all around, there is still some positivism to cheer about. The Federal Capital Territory this month recorded a first in kidney transplant surgery. The survivor tells WINIFRED OGBEBO, in this report, how he's got his groove back.

Looking at Gabriel Unogo, especially the concise and brilliant responses he gave to the questions posed to him, one could hardly believe that few months back, he was actually knocking on death's door.

No, it's so difficult to believe that this lively, healthy-looking,  20-year old,  2009 Senior School Certificate holder from Government Secondary School, Karu, could come out alive from what specialist doctors considered to be one of the most specialized surgeries in the world; kidney transplant. And this is against the backdrop of the frenzy at which all classes of Nigerians seek all manner of medical treatment outside the shores of the country.

He tells his story: 'I started having problems in September 2011. My mum is asthmatic so I used to have shortness of breath which I felt is sort of linked to my mum. I will always feel tired when I do anything. Somewhere along the run, I told my mum and my other family members about it. All of them assumed that it was asthma so I started taking asthma drugs. However, the more I took them, the worse my sickness became. At this period, I was swollen up and bloated. So I eventually went to the hospital to consult a doctor. After running series of tests, they discovered that I  had kidney failure at the Asokoro General Hospital.'

Kidneys are the organs that help filter waste products from the blood. They are also involved in regulating blood pressure, electrolyte balance, and red blood cell production in the body.

According to medical experts, there are numerous causes of kidney failure, and treatment  may be the first step in correcting the kidney abnormality.

Some causes of kidney failure are treatable and the kidney function may return to normal. Unfortunately, kidney failure may be progressive in other situations and may be irreversible.

'Symptoms of kidney failure are due to the build-up of waste products in the body that may cause weakness, shortness of breath, lethargy, and confusion. Inability to remove potassium from the bloodstream may lead to abnormal heart rhythms and sudden death. Initially, there may be no symptoms of kidney failure.'

At what point can someone be diagnosed as having kidney failure?  Dr Hauwa  Bello Gambari said, 'there are different stages;1,2,3,4,5 of kidney disease. But at a certain time, depending on the patient and the parameters you find, you place them on dialysis. There are some who are on the downward trend and you don't worry yourself because you know even if you put them on dialysis, they are bound to have transplant at the end of the day.  So you can just look at them and say, just go ahead with the transplant. Don't stress yourself with dialysis because dialysis takes your time and deprives you  from doing so many things in your life. So there is no clear cut sign for when to go for transplant. So many factors come into it.

Suddenly, for this indigene of Ardo Local Government Area of Benue State, his world came crashing down.

'Subsequently, I was referred to the National Hospital, Abuja where I started dialysis. I did dialysis for about seven months at three times a week. Each session was N20, 000 without blood transfusion. A pint of blood is about N15, 000. There is what is called PVC test which is run frequently and it costs N2, 500 with others.'

Paying hospital bills couldn't have been easy for Gabriel's widowed mother Madam Comfort Unogo, who also has eight other children besides the patient to support. Suffice to say that at the end of the day, Gabriel could not continue with the dialysis as a result of paucity of funds.

But motherluck shone on him as a foundation which was introduced to him, readily agreed to sponsor the cost of his surgery.

'We met them on a Tuesday, sometime in September and we were told of what they want to do. They told us that the major problem they usually have with transplant is getting a donor. However, my elder brother, Steve Unogo agreed to donate for me so we did the transplant here.'

Yet, this was not an agreeable decision for Gabriel who was consumed with fear for his brother's safety.

'I was scared due to the information and knowledge I had that donating organs is risky. I heard that it places both the donor and receiver at great risk. Besides, the medical doctors did not give me guarantee for my brother's safety. Eventually, my family and the doctors convinced me to do it.

On how he feels now that the transplant has taken place, he enthuses, 'I feel very great. I feel sound. I feel the way I used to feel before the sickness. Formerly when I was a kidney patient, I couldn't urinate regularly. I could stay a whole week without using the bathroom. I was on strict diet. I wasn't allowed to eat food with salt. I didn't eat any other food except apples. I wasn't allowed to exhaust myself in any tasking work because I felt weak all the time. Now, I can also breathe very well. I am no longer bloated as I used to'

Narrating the ordeal her son went through, Madam Comfort said, 'When my son came down with the symptoms, I cried. This sickness even though you have money is not good for you. I cried to the extent that God's intervention came. At a time, the National Hospital was not working as they were on strike, so we had to go to Capital Hospital for dialysis. It was while we were there that we were connected to Dr Maina.'

'I cannot express the love, the staff and management of Viewpoint Hospital showed to me. I am nobody yet they showed me love. God used them to bring my son alive to me. The federal government should support our hospitals so that people will not be travelling out for treatment. See what the hospital has done. Is this not a remarkable feat? I have celebrated the Christmas more than any other person because I did not expect this. Before I came to Viewpoint, I was lonely but I saw that God is at work here. The doctors are so nice. I pray to God to bless them.  Today, am laughing. God has turned my sorrow into laughter.'

For Steve Unogo, a graduate of Linguistics/English, University of Maiduguri, though unemployed at the moment, donating kidney to his brother was non negotiable. It was not a decision he gave a second thought to.

He says, 'When I saw that the family cannot go further apart from having the transplant, I volunteered to do that without being forced or advised. We were advised and counselled by Dr Maina and Dr Gambari. We were given the best treatment I never expected beyond limitations. It turned out to be something am grateful for and which has become something of the past.'

'This is something that we see on TV, with victims and their families soliciting assistance to travel abroad for transplant. So it eventually dawned on us that we too are victims of the same circumstances. My mum personally took on the responsibility of catering for him, taking him to different churches for prayers. At the first to five months of the event, we were able to cater for three sessions of dialysis on a weekly basis. We eventually ran out of funds and so we trickled it to one dialysis a week. In addition, we had to cater for buying blood and drugs and some other tests that were conducted. Later on, we met a Godsent person who advised us and gave us opportunity to meet individuals who brought us to Viewpoint hospital. We met with the owners and the doctors who successfully carried out the operation.

'We were in sessions with them for two weeks regarding the whole situation.'

'I feel good and overjoyed because my decision has relieved and saved a life. We did everything we could do but if not for the assistance we received from Dr Gambari, we would have been in no position to save this very life that has been saved. It is a thing of joy that words cannot even express. To see my brother back on his feet is indescribable.'

Gambari who is also the Managing Director of Viewpoint Hospital, disclosed that she was  approached by Dr Maina, for the surgery.

According to her, he told her that this has been his interest for years. 'He said he has met so many people and everybody shies away from doing it. Somebody introduced him to our hospital. He saw our facilities and liked what he saw and he gave us the proposal to do a transplant here. We also did our homework and saw that it was something we could do.'

'It's just the skills that are required. There is no machine or engine you have to have. You have to do the groundwork well. You have to do your tests to determine that the person giving is fit and also has to be fit to a certain extent and also you have to do your HIN type; are they compatible. The person receiving has to be fit to a certain extent. You also have to do your HIN type to determine if it's compatible with the donor's. That's what really matters coupled with the skills of the person doing it.

Gambari disclosed that rejection or failure of the transplant happens for two reasons.

'First, if they have mechanic failure, if you don't do the procedure right. The joining of the kidney to the vessels of the patient receiving it, If you don't do it well, you will have failure in that case.'

'Secondly, if you don't do your HIN typing, that is compatibility. If you don't do it the right way, there's no way the body wont reject it. Even if they are compatible, there's that  prospect of rejection so they have to be on anti-rejection drugs for night but the chances of it surviving is higher if they are very compatible as in scores of 6/6 or 5/6. But if you go and take 2/6, you should be ready for failure.'

Now, that Gabriel has been given a new lease of life, he says he's looking forward to a bright future, hoping to be a civil engineer.

'First and foremost, I will like the government to give a helping hand to the masses because there are so many people suffering from kidney problems and they cannot afford the cost of dialysis. The government could offer free dialysis or subsidize it.'

Expressing gratitude to NAFS  Kidney Foundation for paying 70 per cent of his treatment costs and  Viewpoint hospital, which paid for the remaining 30 per cent,  he says Nigerians should stop travelling outside the country to seek medicare care.