•We need help; no one will see Esther and hold back tears, says family
From Chuks Onuoha, Umuahia
On her bed at the Michael Okpara Ward of the Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia, capital of Abia State, Esther Emeka Ude, an 11-year-old Primary 5 pupil of Divine Learning Academy, Aba, cuts a pathetic picture.
She has been lying on her left side since December 30 last year when she was admitted to the hospital. She had suffered third degree burns following a lantern explosion in the room where she and her siblings were sleeping.
Her siblings had been rescued from the inferno after the explosion. But Esther, who was asleep on the rug, was trapped inside the room.
As the fire raged, her parents and other relations did not know that Esther was still inside the burning room until they heard some struggling inside.
The door to the room refused to open, and the people outside had to break the door. That was when they beheld Esther, literally on fire and desperately running around the room.
By the time she was eventually rescued, Esther had been burnt from head to toe, especially on the left side. The fire had eaten up her left ear and back region, leaving only a little space on her face. Right now, she has only one ear.
A visit to the hospital at the weekend showed that Esther has been bent double like an aged woman as a result of her continuous lying on her left side. Her left hand has remained gummed to her body.
The little girl cried all through the reporter’s visit. The reporter learnt that she always cries, as the unbearable pain tears through her body. And the ceaseless cries also bring tears to the eyes of the nurses attending to her, it was gathered.
She has undergone several surgeries, but the situation has hardly improved. Many have suggested that she should be flown abroad for better treatment, but the family lacks the wherewithal.
Esther’s father, 48-year-old Emeka Ude, who hails from Akoli Ada in Ebonyi State, is married to Mary, from Amaukwu Igbere in Bende Local Government Area of Abia State. He was a petty trader dealing in air freshener at Aba when the incident occurred. He said her daughter’s condition has ensured the collapse of his business. He has since turned to a bus conductor in a bid to raise money for the continued treatment of his daughter.
“I have spent all my money on the treatment of my daughter. My wife used to trade in clothes, but since the incident happened, her business has been grounded, as she has been taking care of the girl in the hospital. We have exhausted all our life savings and exhausted all avenues for borrowing. We now beg to feed.
“We are begging the good people of Nigeria, Abia State, Ebonyi State and people from other parts of the country to help us because of God. We need help because we cannot steal, and we do not want our daughter to die,” he pleaded.
A letter of appeal for financial assistance has been sent out by the Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia. In the letter, signed by one Dr Mrs. Orieji Uka, the hospital is appealing for financial assistance for Esther.
“Her parents cannot afford to shoulder the financial responsibility of her treatment,” writes the hospital. “The patient’s condition is critical, and the hospital management has done a lot for the patient. She is currently receiving treatment at the Okpara ward. We plead that you reach out and save a soul.”
Her father, Emeka Ude, can be contacted on 08026015509. His account number at UBA, Aba is 2096137246.
Mary, Esther’s mother, expectedly looked clearly overwhelmed by her daughter’s condition when the reporter visited the hospital. She couldn’t speak audibly, only muttering some incoherent sounds and pointing to the sky.
The reporter was told that Esther is a very brilliant child who always comes tops in her class. She wants to pursue a career in teaching, to pass knowledge to her generation.
But how did the incident happen? The reporter was informed that in the night of December 29 last year, the room in which Esther and her siblings were sleeping suddenly went up in flames after the lantern in the room suddenly exploded apparently as a result of the adulterated kerosene in the lantern.
There was no water in the house at the time, and a brave uncle had to tear Esther’s dress and the remnants of the rug that had gummed to her body. Esther slumped and passed out. Her parents, relatives and some neighbours had to resuscitate her and rush her to the Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia, where she has since remained on admission, receiving treatment.
Today Esther Emeka Ude is a shadow of her former pretty self. Her usually vibrant look has turned ghostly, even as she appears like a bent, gaunt old woman. Even the reporter couldn’t control his emotions upon sighting the poor girl.
Esther needs help, and urgently too. She can only talk with much effort, panting like a fatigued, overlaboured patient. She informed that the family had travelled to her mother’s hometown of Igbere to spend the last Christmas with her grandparents when the incident occurred.
“We got there at about 7 o’clock in the evening. My grandfather lit the lantern and it happened that there was no kerosene in it. But we came with some kerosene which my mummy bought when she travelled to buy goods in Port Harcourt. My mummy poured the kerosene into the lantern and placed it on the table and we slept off.
“Around 12 midnight, the lantern exploded while we were sleeping and fire engulfed the whole room. My mummy took the lantern and threw it out of the window. She carried my little ones and rushed out. She did not know that I was inside the room and sleeping on the rug, unaware of what was happening. This was happening in a storey building. My younger brother also jumped out through the window. I did not know when the fire got to where I was sleeping and started burning me there on the rug. By the time I knew what was happening, the fire was already burning me. I woke up and started running round the room, looking for the door to run out. By then, the door would not open, and I could not find any escape route.
“It was in the process that they broke the door, and I rushed out with the fire burning all over me. There was no water in the house to pour on me to put off the fire. Then one of my uncles rushed at me and tore the dress I was wearing to stop me from burning.
“I need help. I want to be well again. I want to become a teacher when I grow up. I beg Nigerians to take pity on me and help me. My parents have exhausted all their money on me and we are very poor now.” As she spoke, tears ran down her cheeks. And as she wept, the nurses dressing her wounds couldn’t control their emotions. They also wept.
Mr and Mrs Emeka Ude live at No. 8 Ekeoma Street, off Ngwa Road, Aba with Esther and two of their children. Esther had a twin brother who died after he fell ill when they were four years and eight months old.
Mr. Ude said his family is in dire need of immediate help.
“Esther has passed through many surgeries and she’s waiting to undergo more. But the wounds have remained fresh. Today, her left arm has gummed to her body and only surgery can be used to separate it. But we don’t have the money. Most nights, she doesn’t sleep. She has been lying only on one side for five months now. The doctors have cut off some flesh from her lap to patch part of her neck region, and they need to cut even more to patch other areas.
“Last week, they took her to the theatre again for another operation, and after praying for her, I stepped out, waiting for them to come out of the theatre. A few minutes later, they rolled her out, saying that she was too lean to be operated upon. They said even her laps from where they had planned to cut some flesh to patch her burnt neck have no flesh. They wanted her to gain some flesh so as to do the operation and separate the hand that is stuck to her body. They also want to cut some flesh to patch some other areas. They want to a Plaster-of Paris (POP) on that hand so that the hand can stay on its own. That’s the situation now. I’m begging Nigerians to assist my family. We need urgent help now,” he pleaded.