■ He could have survived if the hospitals did their job – Principal
From PETRUS OBI, Enugu
YOU can still feel the thick, dark cloud of loss at the College of Immaculate Conception (CIC), Enugu, where a 34-year-old SSS- 3 blind student, Gerald Omaga, died, following fatal injuries he sustained when he fell off the upper floor of a two-storey building in the school. Omaga was born with normal vision until he suffered severe convulsion that nobody believed he would survive. It was that sickness that eventually took his sight. He had finished his primary school education and gone into the secondary school in his hometown Aku, in Igbo-Etiti Local Government Area of Enugu State, when he became blind.
The pain of loss of a son is etched all over his mother, Mrs. Bernice Omaga, who wore an all black attire as a sign of mourning for her son, at the time Sunday Sun reporter visited the family home. In the course of the brief chat, she disclosed that Omaga lost his twin sister at the age of four.
After experiencing the terrible convulsion, Omaga lost his sight and was compelled to undergo preliminary re-orientation studies for the visually-impaired at the Special Centre for the Blind at Oji-River to prepare himself for secondary education as a blind student. He eventually enrolled for junior secondary school education at the College of Immaculate Conception (CIC) Enugu, where he recently met his untimely death.
The unfortunate incident that cost Omaga his life happened as he was going out for break. He fell off the unprotected balcony and died. That day, he was not with his helper, who usually assisted him in navigating through the school. His death expectedly threw the school into mourning as the deceased was much loved for his good character and genteel disposition to life and his condition. He took all with uncommon equanimity.
The principal of the school, a humble looking Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Nnamdi Nwankwo, who narrated to Sunday Sun reporter how Gerald met his untimely death, said: “We have about 20 visually impaired persons here and we have up to five visually impaired staff here too. The good news is that the Catholic diocese of Enugu trains all visually impaired students free and we have been doing that for a long time, as our act of charity, to support beneficiaries in our immediate community and demonstrate the love of Christ. The much the visually-impaired students can do towards their education is to pay fees for the West African School Certificate examination (both junior and senior). That is all. All other things, ranging from feeding to school fees are provided by this school.
“So it’s a very painful thing that you trained somebody from JSS-1 to SSS-3 and then the person died; people look at it as any other death but it is not. He was one of our special children; he was like our own child, because we were training him as part of the charity arm of the church. And when somebody who came in here in JSS-1 and continued here and then got to SSS-3, to now lose that person is very painful.”
The hand rail was bad
At the time of the incident, the metal railing on the upper floor of the two-storey building was said to have rusted, terribly broken and removed. Whenever Omaga had to go out of the class, he was always aided by one of the sighted students, but on the fateful day, he was alone and unaided when he mis-stepped on the balcony and fell to his death. Commenting on this, the cleric said: “Yes, there was a little lacuna there which has since been mended. Actually the place was in the process of being repaired, when the incident occurred, because we had already put a barricade. Probably he was trying to avoid that barricade when he fell off; if you go there now you will see that the rails have completely been restored.
“Since he became a senior student in SSS-1 he has been passing through that place, then he fell off from the place he has been passing. So it’s really hurting; but you know students are very rough, so every time we are under pressure to fix our facilities. Because as you repair things today there is no guarantee; they will pull the railing and lean on it, weakening it in the process. So a major budget of this school goes into repairs; they are so rough, I can’t understand why.
“So, part of the rail was off but we put a barricade; of course he could not see it. He always goes with an aide because we have a system where almost every visually impaired student has a helper. And he had one who was so devoted in helping him; in fact we are crying but the student-helper lost more because he has been assisting him for a long time.
“But that very day he decided to leave the class; it was time for recreation; the bell rang and he left the class without the helper, for the first time. He just went through that place; probably he met the barricade (wood) and trying to avoid it maybe he went the other way. It was a disaster. Less than three days later the work on the rail was completed. It was a horrible thing; just something that wanted to happen; and it happened. We can’t blame him, we can’t blame anybody; it’s just God’s own way; because he was a good student, in fact, one of the best among the visually impaired. This year we really have very good students in the visually impaired group; many of them play musical instruments like the drum set and also sing in the choir. He was one person who always obeyed the rules. To be frank with you, this is my 11th year here; some of the visually impaired students have given me the toughest time. You know, sometimes they blame everybody for their situation; and some of them can be horrible. But this set was quite good, especially Omaga. He was the oldest of the visually impaired students in the school; not just the oldest in class, but the oldest in the school and so he was so mature. And I can understand a 34-year-old person with an 18-year-old student; some of them are not even up to 18 years. So it’s so tough for him dealing with kids; but he managed his way and he was very obedient. So when this thing happened it touched me in a very special way.
“I am very glad with the family; the mother was there when we were struggling to save him. We invited the mother and she came, from hospital to hospital.”
Hospitals worsened the situation
Rev. Fr. Nwankwo said that he would not want to blame any particular person for the untimely death of Omaga. However, he expressed disgust with the Nigerian health system, saying that the blind student would probably have survived if the right and urgent medical intervention had been done within hours of the incident.
His words: “If the system was at par with what should obtain in a country as rich as Nigeria, my beloved student would have survived. We took him immediately to ….MC Hospital (real name concealed), but the healthcare personnel there wasted a lot of time before they eventually referred us to a major, private specialist hospital in Enugu (identity concealed) for a for scan. By the time we came back with result, MC hospital washed their hands off the case and asked us to head to the teaching hospital (name withheld). By then half of the day had been wasted already without treatment. This kid was eventually rushed to the teaching hospital; the mother was there, thank God, everybody was there. At the teaching hospital, we were first told to go and buy blood, gloves and all kinds of things, to enable them perform the surgery. We were told that nothing would be commenced until we had provided all the items listed. My question is this: why can’t a teaching hospital provide the required items and then charge fees for them, especially when you know that the patient was being sponsored by an institution? We went around looking for blood with the school’s nurse. Eventually we got the blood, gloves and other tiny things the hospital requested. It was while we were searching for blood that our school’s nurse was called from the hospital to come back because the patient we took there had given up. Omaga waited and waited for medical help that was not forthcoming. Eventually, he poured out blood from his mouth and died. All that would have been done was to drain the blood out from his body through surgery and probably he would be okay. And he gave us a long time but the hospitals wasted so much time. In as much as I think that it is God’s own will, I believe the hospital system should be given more attention by those in authority especially the mentality of medical personnel, so that they will have the inclination to save lives. Let it become an impulse in them that life must be saved first before anywould have been done was to drain the thing else; that is the way it is in America. They don’t even ask you for your health insurance immediately if you come in on emergency. Everything is geared to save life first, and after that we start talking, but here it is not the case. I don’t know whether it is government policy, I don’t know if it is union policy, whatever it is needs to be addressed. It’s very horrible. If you don’t have money to travel abroad for treatment you just die like that; I know we have good doctors and nurses. But there is a system they operate on. The system is horrible, and then there is the issue of lack of instruments and medical devices. We have competent people but we don’t have good system. Because of this it looks as if the doctors and nurses don’t have the desire to save life. Some of the conditions they put across are merely to waste time and invite death to come. So it’s unfortunate he died and we buried him and we did everything. We are consoling the parents. Sometimes we wonder, why did he not wait for his helper, why did the people repairing the place not complete it so fast?”
Special facilities for blind students
On the challenge of facilities for the blind students, he said: “They are not like the deaf and dumb who require more educational techniques and equipment. These people need Braille machine and typewriter. They also make use of recorder in the classroom. We don’t really have special class and such things for them, we don’t. It’s all a matter of system; any school can take them but there must be a system. Here we use the helpers.
In one little way the Enugu State Government through Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has been supporting the school. The governor recently donated 10 Braille machines and a computer with a jaw (a special software that powers an electronic voice) which makes it possible for the blind to use it. The school also has a special library for the blind students and virtually all books on Braille.
I will miss him, laments Omaga’s helper in school
Fidelis Okereke, an SSS-1 student has been like the eyes of the late Omaga, in the school. He was his helper. He revealed that Omaga had other students who also helped him in his class. They usually assisted him to come down the staircase during break periods.
Recalling their long friendship before the unfortunate death of Omaga, Okereke said: “I helped him more in his academics. I read notes into tapes for him; I also did other things for him especially when he wanted to go to the bank. I would go with him.
“After breakfast that morning he said I should get my exeat card so the administrator could give us permission to go outside the school together and get money for his WAEC and NECO exams. That afternoon when I got to his hostel I could not find him. I was surprised because he didn’t like missing his afternoon meals; it was his favourite. It was later in the evening I heard he was involved in an accident.
A teacher in the school, Mr. Ifeanyi Attah, the games master of the school, and also a native of Aku like Omaga said of the deceased: “He was my student and a friend because of the way he behaved; very humane. I always had discussions with him. He talked to me about life and he was a devoted Christian. I saw him that morning before break period in front of his class. He wasn’t used to moving alone; maybe something happened and he decided to take a walk on his own.”