Diagnosed with sickle cell anaemia at the age of two in Lagos, Nigeria, I remember having my first blood transfusion at the age of six. That first transfusion episode opened my eyes to the value of blood in the maintenance of good health. I felt so strong and so rejuvenated that I made a mental note to ask for blood anytime fatigue and headache – my brand childhood complaints – reared their ugly heads.
Over the years, what with frequent attacks of malaria, I had blood transfused now and then – like once in every three or four years. In those days, the cynosure of negative extended family attention, the one for whom the word goes out about being in emergency need of blood, I likened myself to an old wagon, a headache to its driver, a liability to its owner!
Each time, in the process of having a transfusion, I used to wonder who it was that donated the blood. As I watch blood course through rubber into my arm, a sense of oneness with other human beings would take hold and I would feel grateful that someone out there had sliced off a bit of themselves to keep me in good health!
It was a shock to learn later on, when I wanted to reciprocate, that I could never donate blood. That gave rise to a heightened sense of respect for blood donors and for those who conduct blood campaigns.
I took blood on several occasions at other hospitals in my hometown and in Lagos. On other occasions, I was given hematinic tablets to help improve my blood volume as doctors decided a transfusion was not urgent.
A lucky introduction to a herbal phytomedicine, while I was on admission at a Clinic in Lagos once again, marked a turning point in my proclivity to live on other people’s blood.
It was 2004. I was on admission for malaria, typhoid fever and, at a PCV of 11%, dangerously short of blood. I was listless as I heard the doctor tell my wife I needed to have blood – and urgently.
Prior to my admission, I couldn’t take 10 steps without pausing to rest for a few minutes. A bit of exertion left me breathless, heaving and gasping. Extreme tiredness is evil.
My wife offered to donate her own blood, but the doctor refused. Then, speaking her thoughts, she complained half to herself and half to those within hearing range, that she was tired of ‘blood today, blood tomorrow’. She had only seen me take blood once but that was once too many times for her.
Calling her aside, a woman whose child was also on admission, asked my wife to buy the phytomedicine and administer it thrice daily.
Within 10 days of taking the phytomedicine, my PCV rose to 27%. I, that couldn’t take more than a handful of steps without being deathly breathless, now took brisk walks and sprinted without a hint of fatigue. The improved blood volume was nothing short of a miracle for me!
I took part in the clinical trials for this unnamed phytomedicine at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital in 2012. There, senior nurses at the haematology clinic told of SCD patients with significant anaemia restored to health within days by the administration of this same phytomedicine.
It is 12 years now and I have not taken anyone’s blood. Thus, whenever a well-known Nigerian old school haematologist condemns this phytomedicine and indeed other known plant-based hematinics as ‘useless’ for sickle cell, I used to shake my head at the disservice he is doing to the SCD community and indeed to the continent. Here is a continent in which blood donation is hampered by all sorts of myths and taboos, a continent where blood supply is persistently low relative to demand, a continent where voluntary blood donation is tearfully low relative to the number of potential donors.
The astronomical cost of blood is another reason many embrace alternative means of boosting their own blood. I personally know individuals with sickle cell who, on hospital bed, resorted to smuggling in vegetable and plant blood boosters. African native pharmacopeia is replete with known hematopoietic plants awaiting scientific attention.
For me, whether blood comes from other people directly or indirectly from a plant or food supplement, blood is a healer, a health and life restorative. With SCD a blood disorder and chronic blood shortage its principal accompaniment, a good and adequate blood supply, internally and externally, is our #1 hope for survival.