It was on a Saturday, December 23, 2000 in Gboko, Benue State. The day’s job had been far done when a copy of the day’s edition of the Guardian on Saturday got to the Hopeville Hospital office of Dr Sylvanus Nchinatu Omeonu, a Russian trained orthopedic surgeon. As a routine, he went through the major headlines on the cover and was now leafing through the pages. As usual, he marked out in his mind stories he would read in detail at home after the day’s work. Then, something caught his attention on a page; it was compelling enough to make him sit upright –the story on Mr. Joseph Ofeimum.
This would be the second story on his predicament. The first appeared earlier on August 12, last year under the headline; “Between the deep sea and the devil”, which detailed the account of how Joseph, an Esan born, electrical/electronic graduate of Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, was shot on his right leg in a cross-fire between members of Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) and the police, in the Ajeromi/Ifelodun Local Government area of Lagos State while he was returning from work on November 1, 1999.
A few days after the incident when Joseph was taken to the National Orthopaedic Hospital Igbobi, Lagos, an x-ray showed “open fracture type three”, meaning that the wound was big and extensive. It was also noticed that the mid shaft of the tibia was dead, leading to its removal, which created a gap of about 10 cm. For over one year, Joseph had been lying helplessly at the Mobolaji Bank–Anthony Accident Ward of the hospital, where the Consultant Orthopedic Surgeon and the Head of the Direct Patient Care, Dr. Kingsley Nkumah, said the only option left for Joseph, in the alternative of amputating his leg, was the application of “the procedure of “tri-focal osteosynthesis”, using the Ilizarov instrument technique”.
The Ilizarov technique became the only option because “it is the only method that can bridge 10-centimeter gap in the tibia and, at the same time, ensure that the correct length of the leg is maintained”. With this technique, Dr. Nkumah went on, the plastic surgeon can also raise a flap to cover the muscle defect. Unfortunately, he said, the use of Ilizarov procedure could not be carried out in Nigeria, leading to enquiries in the United State, from where they got responses indicating “that a 10-centimeter discrepancy”, it will require 6 to 12 months of treatment at the cost of $100,000 (more than N12 million) for both hospital and medical service.
Following the publication of the story in August and the untiring campaign mounted by his friends and relations in the electronic media, only about N600,000 had been raised, when his kinsmen, the Esan Youths Movement in Lagos, came to present to him a cheque for N500,000 on December, 15. The report of the visit of the youths, under the headlines: “How to be a brother’s keeper”, was what later caught Dr Omeonu’s attention.
Two things occurred to him. One, he resolved that something had to be done, “for the sake of the young man”. Two, he was not happy with the statement from his colleagues that the Ilizarov procedure could not be done in the country. He recalled that during the 1998 and 1999 Annual General/Scientific Meetings of the Nigerian Orthopaedic Association held in Aba, Abia State and in Lagos respectively, he and one Dr Leonard Mbamara had sensitized their colleagues on the use of “circular frames and Ilizarov’s principles” and demonstrated it before them. The letter which he wrote to the Guardian on Saturday four days after read: “I read about the plight of Mr. Joseph Ofiemun, whose photograph appeared on page 17 of your December 23, 2000 issue.
It is reported that he is a victim of gunshot, for which he has been hospitalized at the National Orthopaedic Hospital Igbobi, Lagos, for over a year; that due the extensive bone and soft tissue loss, his chances of walking on his leg will be enhanced by the use of Ilizarov instrumentation technique: that “unfortunately the Ilizarov procedure cannot be carried out in Nigeria. For this reason, Joseph ‘s fate now hangs on the possibility of raising about N12 million required for his treatment in the United States of America.
I hereby state that Ilizarov instrumentation technique can be carried out here in Nigeria, with the same effect and within the time frame suggested by our American colleagues, but at a considerably much lower cost.
“From Joseph’s photograph, it is clearly evident that he needs this technique for his management, as stated by consultant orthopeadic surgeon, Dr. Kingsley Nkumah. But I disagree with the statement that it cannot be carried out in Nigeria. I have been using this technique in Nigeria since 1992. I have treated over 25 cases of open tibial fractures using the Ilizarov method and apparatus, and all the fractures healed. I have lengthened short limbs well over eight centimeters. I have healed missing bone diseases of various lengths by bone transportation. I have corrected angular mal-alignment, treated non-unions by Ilizarov compression and distraction methods. My claims are open for verification”.
A tour of facilities of Hopeville Hospital, Gboko, run by Dr. Sylvanus Nchinatu Omeonu, produced two important cases of bone fracture among other patients being treated with the application of the procedure of tri-focal osteosynthesis, using the Illzarov instrumentation technique – one, that of an immigration officer and the other, a journalist.