Daily, Nigerians throng foreign embassies in search of visas to travel abroad to seek cure for varying kidney ailments at very exorbitant costs. Because of the cost implication, the research for medical comfort for sufferers of Chronic Kidney Diseases (CKO), and End-Stage Renal Diseases (ESRD) abroad is not for the have-nots, as the entire process run into about N10m minimum, all without the guarantee of staying alive.
But in December 2017, and last January, the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Umuahia, Abia State, recorded feats, which have given hope to the hopeless and the poor. That is the successful free kidney transplants carried out on four patients – 37-year-old businessman, Orji Ogbonnaya Ule; 68-year-old medical doctor, Charles Nmeregini; 41-year-old trader, Chikwendu Elijah, and Eze Kenneth.
Kidney is a bean-shaped pair organ in the human body, each located on both sides of the spine, behind the stomach. Its main function is to keep the composition of blood in the body balanced to maintain good health.
Some symptoms of kidney diseases include high blood pressure; changes in the amount and number of times urine is passed; change in the appearance of urine; pain in the kidney areas; tiredness; loss of appetite; sleeping difficulties, headache; loss of concentration; itching; shortness of breath; bad breath, metallic taste in the mouth; muscle cramps; nausea and vomiting; pins and needle-like pains in the fingers or toes, among others.
Of late, kidney diseases have been on the increase, causing millions of deaths globally, annually. Its poor care and genetics can cause a wide range of health problems.
For instance, Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), also known as chronic kidney failure occurs when the kidney slowly stops functioning without help. Getting help in this condition is very costly and painful due to the continuous dialysis that the patient must undergo.
The prevalence of CKD among Nigerians is quite high as reflected in residents of Umuahia, in Abia State, where a survey showed that 7.3 per cent of them were down with the ailment, while End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) (dialysis-dependent) accounted for eight per cent of all hospital admissions in the South East.
This data was further confirmed by the fact that at the FMC Umuahia Dialysis Centre, an average of four new patients per week are added to the llist of dialysis-dependent kidney disease cases.
In the country today, dialysis costs between N105,000 to N120,000 per week. These costs exclude the occasional blood transfusions and drugs etc. Since less than a handful of Nigerians can afford this, many patients consequently die before the end of the first year of commencing dialysis.
Although it is known that performance of renal transplantation on ESRD patients is cheaper than maintaining such patients on renal dialysis for life, transplant facilities are scarce.
Of the 10 renal transplant units in the country, none was located in the South East until recently that the FMC Umuahia came on board. The four successful transplants carried out between December 2017 and January 2018 at the facility, were done by its 45-man team, working in collaboration with Dr. Obi Ekwenna, from the University of Toledo, Ohio United States.
By this feat, the FMC Umuahia became the first medical institution in the South East to perform kidney transplants in the country, thus joining 10 other medical institutions that have achieved such feat.
The Guardian reliably gathered that these free transplants were done by the hospital partly to prove it was possible to do so; create awareness and thus check Nigerians resort to facilities overseas for cure for their ailing kidneys.
Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, who visited the facility in Umuahia, shortly after last month’s successful transplants, met with the two patients and their kidney donors at the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, where he congratulated the medical team and the hospital’s management for the feat.
Adewole described the FMC Umuahia, which medical director is Dr. Abali Chuku, as one of the upcoming federal medical institutions, whose breakthroughs elate the government.
“I am always happy to visit this hospital and I am more than impressed with its breakthrough in kidney transplantations,” he said, pledging that the Federal Government will continue to give the hospital the necessary support.
He stressed that with the feat achieved, Nigerians that are down with kidney ailments now have another choice of where to get treated locally so that they can save the huge cost of doing same abroad.
Ekwenna, a surgeon and team leader, who spoke shortly after the maiden transplants in December last year said, “these were successful transplantations by any standard anywhere in the workd. The patients are happy with the outcome; they can work, walk and eat as they please. The kidney donors are doing wonderfully and excellently well, and the recipients are happy that everything went excellently”.
He attributed the success recorded to the dedication of the medical team, including the hospital’s management, which he said had “the desire to bring this service to the communities and the patients.”
Ekwenna, described the medical director of the facility, Dr. Chuku as a “strong and committed leader. I met him few years ago and he expressed the desire to bring kidney transplantation to the South East Nigeria … and I made a commitment to help him through my team in Toledo ..”
On the challenges faced by the team in the course of carrying out the operations, khe said, “this is not like a hospital in the Us where there is no limitation, the most important thing is the commitment of the people to the patients. We did the best that we could do, and did it well with what we had, this is something that people though was impossible to do in a place that the resources are limited.”
He added that as a result of the relationship/partnership with the FMC Umuahia, his team in the US will continue towork towards skills transfer as the need arises, and would return to the country to give further professional assistance, including carrying out more transplantations.
Chukwu on his part said that the development has planned his hospital as the cheapest destination for kidney transplantation in kkthe South East, adding that the transplantations were done 80 per cent by the FMC medical team, while 20 per cent was done by the USA team.
He hinted that 40 more kidney transplantations would be carried out this year, urging all and sundry to collaborate with the hospital in order to subsidise the cost, as the hospital never charged the four patients a dime for the successful surgeries.
On how FMC Umuahia got involved in kidney transplant, Chukwu traced it to 2015, when he was honoured by the University of Toledo, Ohio, with an admission into its Medical Hall of Fame.
Said he: “Our vision for kidney transplantation started in 2015 when I was invited by the Toledo University, Ohio, to be honoured with an admission into its hall of Fame.
Said he: “Our vision for kidney transplantation started in 2015 when I was invited by the Toledo University, Ohio, to be honoured with an admission into its Hall of Fame, after which I sought for FMC partnership with the k university on kidney management.
“After my investiture alongside nationals of other countries, I was asked to indicate what I would want the university do for me, I pleaded that the school should help FMC Umuahia to establish a kidney centre because Toledo University was already globally noted for this. This led FMC Umuahia to sign a four-year MoU with the school for transfer of skill to our medical personnel in kidney transplantation for which fivce of our staff later went there for exposure to kidney management for four years.”
Chukwu continued: “We are also grateful to Prof. Ekwenna, who played a key role during the ktransplant and Mr. James Ogbuka Umekwe, who donated large consumables for the kidney centre and all others, who participated in the transplant.:
According to medical director, before FMC Umuahia started kidney transplantation, lonely 10 hospitals in the lcountry had successfully done that, hence “we are happy that FMC Umuahia has kjoined that league, and that both the donors and recipients are doing very well after the surgeries.”
He further disclosed that apart from the transplant being free of charge, the hospital would follow up the patients for one year withnecessary medications to ensure that their kkidnes continue to do well.
He expressed appreciation to the kidney donours and members of their families “for having the courage to donate one of their kidnes,” stating that the vision of FMC, Umuahia is to make its kidney transplant the cheapest in the country adding that the hospital’s kidney Foundation hopes to subsidise the transplant to less than N3.5m.
One of the beneficiaries, Ule expressed gratitude to the hospital for the wonderful opportunity provided indigent patients like them to undergo the life-saving transplant locally, since they do not have the means and capacity to go abroad for the surgery. “We also thank the medical team, who God used to save our lives, we are in excellent health condition after the transplant.”