My wife and I have perfect sight, we don’t know why four of our six children are blind — Couple - News and More

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Friday, 30 June 2017

My wife and I have perfect sight, we don’t know why four of our six children are blind — Couple

The aura in Forest Guard Street, Uromi, a sub-urban community in Esan North-East Local Government Area of Edo State, was serene.
Motorcycles, a means of transportation rarely seen in the Benin metropolis, sped down the two-lane Catholic Mission road.

But the ambience in House 21, where the Odions reside, an old-styled bungalow with less than 20 rooms and a narrow passageway, betrayed the air of tranquility in the area. It was queerly moody.

In spite of the heavy rains, the sweltering heat cascading from the rusty roof of the building was biting; a condition Josephine Odion, a 49-year-old mother of six, is used to.

Her facial expression revealed the sorrow of a mother with four blind children. Her offsprings – Grace (22), Faith (18), Meshach (16) and Mercy (9) – lost their sight to what has remained unfathomable not only to their parents but also medical experts.

Odion shared her ordeal with our correspondent during a visit to the community. Her husband sat on the bed, lost in reverie over the myriads of challenges he is battling with.

Although he manages a rented farmland, his family apparently lives from hand to mouth. With an unpaid house rent and accumulated electricity bills, these are not the best of times for the family.

Added to his troubles was the illness that struck his 20-year-old daughter, Patience, which left her hospitalised for over a week.

His youngest son, Samuel, can see. He assists his parents in helping his older siblings.

“My other siblings can’t see me. Since I cannot play with them physically, I tell them jokes to cheer them up,” said Samuel, a primary six pupil of Efandion Nursery and Primary School.

“Sometimes, I feel sad when I am the only one doing the chores in the home. But I do not mind because I know their condition,” he added.

A resident of the area, Miss Constance Okoeguale, who is a close friend of the family, described the condition of the affected children as a pathetic one. Okoeguale lamented that the loss of their sight had robbed them of basic opportunities of life and confined them indoors.

“I knew them through their mother because she used to come around when I came back from Lagos. One day, they were discussing and she (Josephine) mentioned her case. I was surprised. I have never seen a thing like that before,” Okoeguale told SUNDAY PUNCH.

“One day, I met one Paulinus Okpere on Facebook. He is the founder of I Care Foundation and I told him the story. He was touched and he helped me to publicise it.

“The situation of the family is very pathetic because if the children could see, they would assist their parents who are managing to survive,” she added.

As the kids’ parents continue to search for a cure, SUNDAY PUNCH gathered that the children may be suffering from congenital cataract, a common cause of serial blindness.

Experts say congenital cataract is responsible for five to 20 per cent of blindness in children worldwide and could lead to amblyopia, when not treated quickly.  Early treatment for congenital cataract, it was gathered, costs about N100,000.

A consultant ophthalmic surgeon at the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, Dr. Wilson Ovienria, said, “I heard about their case during departmental meetings in the hospital. There are various causes of childhood blindness, those that are born blind or those that end up as developmental blindness. That is, they become blind as they grow. This may happen quite early.

“In cases that have been recorded and for those that are hereditary, the commonest cause is congenital cataract. That means the child was born with the condition or acquired it at an early age. It can happen anywhere from birth to any time in life. But for the one that falls under hereditary or congenital, the child must have acquired the cataract before the age of 16.”

On the possibility of a cure, Ovienria stated, “If congenital cataract is the case, and I think it is the case of the family in question, then, there is a cure.”

Our correspondent learnt that the visually challenged children had dropped out of Okpujie Primary School, a state-owned school located in the community, several years ago due to alleged bullying by some of the pupils.  The school is under the special education unit.

According to the head of the unit, identified as Duba Oriere, while the school has facilities for children with special needs, it has never enrolled as many as four blind siblings from the same family.

Oriere stated, “The special section was established in 2006 and I was employed in 2007 by the Edo State Government as a special teacher. We have never seen a case of four (blind) children from the same family. I watched a clip about the children on Facebook, which was posted by someone. But I expected the person to come to the school to find out.”

Continuing, he said, “We have a unit where we care for all forms of disability. We teach the blind, the deaf and the dumb, as well as children that are mentally retarded. The only problem I think we have is shortage of mobility and manpower.”

‘We have lived sad lives for 22 years’
Tell us about yourself.

Husband: I am Peter Odion from Uromi in Esan North-East Local Government Area of Edo State.

Wife: I am Mrs. Josephine Odion from Ubierumu Oke-Uromi in Esan North-East Local Government Area of Edo State. I am a farmer.

How many children do you have?

Wife: We have six children, comprising four girls and two boys.

We learnt that some of them are blind. How many are they?

Wife: Four of them cannot see. They are Grace (22), Meshach (18), Faith (16) and Mercy (9).

Husband: The others without any visual challenges are Patience (20) and Samuel (14).

Were those with visual challenges born that way?

Wife: They were born normally without any complications. But when Grace began to crawl, I noticed that she usually left the right path and hit her head against a wall and cry aloud. I was surprised. I looked at her eyes and noticed that something was wrong. I complained to my husband that she could not see. She used to see faintly when she was in kindergarten. But when she got to primary one, she became completely blind.

Did you seek medical help?

Wife: I took her to a hospital in Benin where some doctors checked her and didn’t find anything wrong. They advised me to take her to a church for prayers. When she was 10 years old, I also took her to the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital but doctors there didn’t prescribe any drugs.

I attend Deeper Christian Life Ministry, so I took her to the headquarters of the church in Lagos. I couldn’t see my pastor, (William) Kumuyi, face-to-face because there was no opportunity and there were many security operatives there.

How did the other three children become blind?

Wife: It happened the same way for the other three. When Meshack was little, I took him to the specialist teaching hospital. But the doctors could not find anything, even after carrying out different tests. They asked me how I knew that he was blind and I told them that I know because he is my son.

Husband: They asked me if I had anybody from my family or my husband’s family who was blind and I said no. Sometimes, I ask God what I did that made four of my children blind. But I do not think I committed any sin or wronged anybody that makes me deserve what I am facing now.

Were the affected children certified blind by a medical doctor?

Wife: When I wanted to take them to see Prophet T. B. Joshua at the Synagogue Church of All Nations, I was advised to get a doctor’s report. I did. I don’t have the report with me because I attached it with some documents which were taken to Lagos by my sister and I did not remember to make photocopies of them.

How do you cater for the needs of the children?

Wife: It has not been easy for me. When I go to the farm, I cry to God because as old as they are, their peers are either in school or learning a trade. But they are always inside the house and I am the one who does the major house work like cooking and fetching water. It is really painful. Look at me; I was not as emaciated as I am now. It pains me a lot.

Husband: Things have been hard for us. I cannot even stay on the farm because when I see other children moving around and working on their farms, it makes me feel bad. I have spent a lot of money on them which I cannot even calculate.

One of my daughters (Patience) is sick and in a hospital. She complained of stomach upset. I took her to a private hospital and I spent over N30,000. I later took her to St. Camillus Hospital, where she is currently receiving treatment. The doctor said that I should pay N85,030. I am willing to pay but I don’t have the money.

Has any of them ever confronted you about their plight?

Wife: Yes. One day, one of them (Grace) asked me, “Mummy, my elder sister can see. Why can’t I see? What did you do? Where did you go to? How did it happen?” I told her that I did not go anywhere and that I only noticed one day that she was blind and did not know the cause. She cried bitterly and I cried too, comforting her that God would heal her.

Did you enrol them in school?

Wife: No. I could not cope with the burden of taking four of them to school at once and back home. I don’t even have the money.

Is it true that they couldn’t attend school because there was no school for children with special needs in Uromi?

Wife: No. Meshach used to attend Okpujie Primary School, Uromi. I was told that there is a special school there. I took him there. But each time I left him there, he was always beaten by some of the pupils who were deaf or dumb. The injuries became too much and unbearable. I later told him to stay at home.

How many of your children attended the school?

Wife: Three of them attended the school. It is now about six years since they stopped going there.

Did you ever seek assistance from the local or state governments?

Wife: No, I could not because I do not know anybody and I am not literate. It bothers me a lot but some of my close friends advised me not to think too much so that I don’t die of grief. I have been managing to take care of them. I go to the farm where I fetch firewood and harvest cassava to sell in front of the compound where we live. I am appealing to the Edo State Government and well-meaning Nigerians to come to our aid.

Husband: I am begging the government to assist us. I do not want my children to be useless. I have lived a sad life for the past 22 years because of their visual impairment. I would be grateful if they can undergo an operation, regain their sight and attend school.

“I don’t know what my parents look like”
22-year-old Grace Odion speaks about her predicament
When did you realise that you couldn’t see?

I noticed that I could not see a along time ago. I often hit my head against objects when I moved around. It made me cry.

Is it true that you asked your mother why you are unable to see?

Yes, I did. I observed that my sister and younger brother could see but I could not. I had to ask her. She told me to be patient and that God would restore my vision.

How do you cope with your situation?

I am managing to move around. I do not know what my parents look like. I only hear their voices. I can hear people clearly. I believe that my mum is not as beautiful as she used to be because of our present condition. It makes me sad.

Would you like to continue your education?


What would you like to be?

I want to be a fashion designer.

Do you have friends?

No, I do not have friends in my neighbourhood.


I do not go out because of my disability. I only have a few friends who are church members.

Do they visit you?

No. They don’t come to my house because I don’t go to theirs. We only exchange greetings when we meet in church.

What do you want now?

I need help to restore my sight. I need the government to help me so that I can see again.

Do you believe you can see again?

Yes, I do. I believe in God. If I am advised to see a native doctor, I won’t go because I believe in God.

I want to see again —Meshach
Briefly describe yourself.

I am Meshach Odion. I am 18 years old.

When did you lose your sight?

I lost my sight when I was 10 years old. When it happened, I prayed to God to help me see again. I believe that God will do it for me.

Why did you stop going to school?

My father took me to a special class at Okpujie Primary School. When I was there, some persons used to beat me up when my mother was not around. The boys, who are deaf and dumb, used the teachers’ cane to beat me up.

Did you have friends there?

No, I did not have friends because I was not like other pupils. I could not do the things they did. I could not relate with them well.

Would you like to go back to school?

Yes. I would like to attend a music academy. I want to be a musician.

What kind of assistance do you want from Nigerians?

I want to be able to see. I will be happy if they can help me to undergo surgery so that I can see again.

Their case is treatable, they only need financial aid — Ophthalmologist
Chairman, Medical Advisory Committee at the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, Edo State, Dr. Wilson Ovienria, speaks on the condition of the four blind children

What do you think is the cost for the treatment of congenital cataract assuming it is the cause of the kids’ blindness?

The cost implication is very relative. I can say that if the patient is bilateral and has N100, 000, he or she is in a safe zone. If the patient was born blind and has stayed that way all his life, there is another condition that can creep in, that will make the cataract surgery not to be as effective as it should have been. This is amblyopia. In this case, the eye has been deprived of good vision and, probably, enough light to stimulate the development of the retina over the years. Sometimes, when the patient undergoes surgery, he or she does not get the full benefits of the surgery like it should have been if he had not been left blind for a long time, especially in childhood. That clarification is needed because it is the major reason a patient can have cataract surgery after many years and the visual outcome would not be as successful as it should have been if the patient was blind for a shorter time. In the case of amblyopia, it is a form of irreversible blindness. But for children, in medicine, never say never. In some cases, there could be improvements.

What is your advice to parents who have similar problems?

The smart thing to do when you notice a problem with the eye is to visit an eye specialist, preferably, an ophthalmologist. If a patient presents very early, there are chances of a better visual outcome. My advice is that any time you notice that your child does not seem to see well or he or she is bumping into objects, slow in learning or you notice any change in the eye at all, the right and smart thing to do is to see an eye doctor. I always advocate that even when it appears that nothing is wrong with your eye, you should have an eye check at least once every 12 months.

How can the kids get proper treatment considering their parents’ poor financial state?

If the condition is congenital cataract, it is treatable. I spoke with the consultant pediatric ophthalmologist in charge. She said that the main problem the family has is that of finance. But non-governmental organisations can take up the case. If someone is ready to help them, we would gladly perform the surgery. There is no special procedure; all they (NGOs) need to do is to get in touch with the family they want to help. Then they can approach the hospital and indicate their interest to help the family. We will then deal with them as the new “parents” of the family and take it up from there. The reason we ask NGOs to meet the family first is because if they approach the hospital, they may end up helping a different person.

( Punch)

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