“…if money is what will be required for him (Suleiman) to get back on his feet and live a meaningful life and contribute to the well-being of others and the economy of the state, I take personal responsibility…”
These were the soothing words of the Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello, in 2016, towards lifting a paralysed graduating veterinary medical student of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Suleiman Hassan.
The event was part of the activities to mark Mr Bello’s second anniversary in office, and as captured by the Lokoja station of the African Independent Television (AIT), the announcement was accompanied by thunderous claps from a cheering audience.
Earlier in 2016, the governor had donated N5 million to settle Mr Hassan’s accumulated bills at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Lokoja, and for his urgently required plastic surgery to cushion the effect of bedsore his condition caused.
A similar story published by PREMIUM TIMES at the time had attracted the governor’s attention to the patient’s plight then.
Wheeled to the event, Mr Hassan, among other beneficiaries of the governor’s medical interventions, had thanked and prayed for Mr Bello profusely.
Buoyed by the sense of appreciation, the governor pledged to do more, and for Mr Hassan in particular.
But five years later, there is yet no word from the governor, as the patient’s condition has now degenerated. He is now being threatened with ejection by the hospital management over-accumulation of unpaid bills and the facility’s seemingly helplessness.
How it all started
On June 18, 2013, shortly after completing his clinical presentation and awaiting his final year project defence, Mr Hassan embarked on a trip from Zaria, his university’s host community to back home in Lokoja, Kogi State capital.
He was then 28 years old and was full of life with dreams to become a successful veterinary doctor in a couple of months. But that was not to be.
Few kilometres to Lokoja, the commercial bus Hassan boarded from Zaria was involved in a ghastly accident, which left many of its occupants dead.
Narrating his experience to PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter in June, the now 35-year-old man, who has remained paralysed since 2013, said his attempt to stand up at the scene of the accident was the straw that broke his proverbial camel’s back.
“When the officials of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) visited the scene, I regained my consciousness; then I tried to stand up and I felt a sharp pain and that was it. Eight years down the line, I have not been able to stand up,” he narrated.
He said he was taken to the FMC in Lokoja where he was diagnosed with severe spinal cord injury.
“But the hospital said it could not manage my case,” he said.
Mr Hassan was transferred to Usmanu Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital (UDUTH), Sokoto, where he spent two excruciating years.
He said; “The neurosurgeons did their best to stabilise and prepare me for spinal surgery which could be conducted at UDUTH at the time but the doctors realised I was not fit for surgery. They said I had breathing issues, among other complications.”
But with the help of family members and the ABU management, his bills were paid.
However, as a result of the complications, Mr Hassan’s health continued to deteriorate. He soon developed bedsore and due to his situation, he said he no longer received support from the hospital management.
Mr Hassan said he requested to be transferred back to the FMC in Lokoja for lack of support.
“Since the FMC Lokoja said it could not carry out the surgery, my details including history, examination and investigations were sent to India and I was told that a feedback assured that an operation that would require roughly N11 million naira would be required,” he explained.
However, five years after the quotation was received, PREMIUM TIMES learnt the same surgery would now cost about N15 million due to inflation.
According to medical reports obtained from the FMC where he’s been readmitted since 2015, Mr Suleiman sustained “complete cord transection with quadriplegia with multiple pressure ulcer.”
Spinal cord transection is a devastating condition, leading to permanent disability especially among young people.
Spinal cord injuries, according to health experts, may result from damage to the vertebrae, ligaments or disks of the spinal column or to the spinal cord itself.
“Additional damage usually occurs over days or weeks because of bleeding, swelling, inflammation and fluid accumulation in and around the spinal cord,” experts say.
According to the medical report, only Mr Hassan’s face, neck and arms are alive with movement for other parts of his body paralysed from the waist down.
But Mr Hassan recalled the devastating accident that left him paralysed eight years ago with a calm acceptance underpinned by defiance.
Doctors say all that he needs now is a spinal cord surgery and he could rise again.
That was the message of hope Mr Bello received in 2016 when he pledged additional support for Mr Hassan.
Since Mr Bello’s promise in 2016, days turned into weeks and weeks into months but Mr Hassan and his family did not hear anything from neither the governor personally nor from the state government regarding the pledge.
“We made several attempts to reach the government to remind them of the pledge. We channelled our reminders through our local government chairman at the time and the commissioner for solid minerals to plead on our behalf but all efforts yielded no positive outcome,” Mr Hassan told our reporter sobbing.
The would-be vet doctor said five years after the pledge was made, there has been no positive feedback from the state government.
Kogi government react
Meanwhile, when contacted to find out why the pledge has not been redeemed five years after, Onogwu Mohammed, the governor’s chief press secretary, said the state health commissioner, Saka Haruna, ”was in the best position to provide answers”.
However, when contacted, Mr Haruna said he would also have to find out what happened and that he would revert.
“The Special Adviser to the governor on health during the first term was in charge of donations and aids to indigent citizens. I will enquire from him and get back to you”, the official said.
The health commissioner said he was aware that ”a lot of efforts have been made to assist Mr Hassan”.
He also explained how the state government has helped many indigent Kogi residents.
The commissioner added; “Under my watch, about 28 patients received treatment abroad paid by the government including separation of siamese twins. More than 480 have been treated with different forms of ailments locally.
“This was done through Bello Health Intervention, which has now been renamed ‘Bello Care’ under the newly established state health insurance agency.”
He said the initiative has proven to provide leverage for indigent people in the state to access quality health care.
But more than one week after his promise, the commissioner is yet to get back to our reporter on the issue.
Family in anguish
Meanwhile, Mr Hassan seems to be losing hope as the pledge by the state government has remained a mirage.
He said he was tired of the burden his situation has placed on his family within the last eight years.
He said his mother has developed hypertension over his situation while his elder brother has abandoned everything to cater for him.
Mr Hassan narrated how his family had to sell properties and currently live on debts just so that they could rescue him from his unfortunate predicament.
Mr Suleiman’s elder brother, Abdullahi Hassan, is perhaps the most affected by his situation.
The older Hassan has stood by his brother since eight years ago when he was hospitalised.
“I just finished my NCE when the accident happened, I have not even collected my results,” the older Hassan said.
“I had plans to further my education and get married but I just have to leave everything and stay with Suleiman because he cannot survive on his own if I leave,” the brother added.
More troubles for Hassan
Meanwhile, apart from the spinal cord injury and bedsore which had been addressed with plastic surgery, Mr Hassan is said to have later developed acute psychosis, his medical report also revealed.
He is said to be suffering from faecal and urinary complications which have made him unable to defecate or urinate without the help of a tube.
While the medical report described him as an in-patient with wound dressing physiotherapy and other supportive treatment, Mr Hassan said there have been threats to kick him out of the hospital since he could no longer pay bills, even for routine treatments.
“I had to plead with them to give me from now till December so I can sort myself out,” the patient said.
The hospital management declined comments on Mr Hassan’s claims.
“We have made several attempts to reach the government and remind them of the pledge”, repeats a traumatised Hassan. “We used our local government chairman at the time and the commissioner of solid minerals to plead on our behalf but all efforts remained unyielding.”
“For eight years, I have been living in pain. I cannot sleep properly. My whole body is in pain. My hands and joints have been dislocated because I always stay in one place,” the patient said amid tears.
He pleads with well-meaning Nigerians to come to his aid.
Editor’s Note: For those who are willing to come to Mr Hassan’s aid, his phone number and bank account details are reproduced below
Phone number: 08051855778
UBA Account Number: 2056923182
Account Name: Suleiman Hassan