Life with Sickle Cell Disorder, as with life in general, has its ‘up’ times and ‘down’ times. With SCD, even in those so-called ‘up’ times, one is chronically at risk of being pulled down at any time.
Oluwatobi Kehinde Lala, a biomedical laboratory scientist at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, Nigeria is so conscious of the vicissitudes of life with SCD that he gives all his attention and his entire mind to any task at hand. His hours are long and the work both demanding and hazardous. The highly infectious pathogens he works on are no match for a determined investigator.
‘My colleagues say I’m a workaholic,’ Oluwatobi admits, ‘they don’t know that with SCD – much like the Boy Scouts – you have to ‘Be Prepared.’’
Prepared, for what? Prepared, he says, for the occasional absence from work due to those unpardonable down times spawned by the world’s most commonly-inherited blood disease.
Oluwatobi, along with his twin sister, was diagnosed with sickle cell anaemia shortly after birth in 1981. Their immediate elder brother, the family’s second-born, was similarly with sickle cell anaemia, the reason the twins were screened so early. One more child would be born after the twins and he, like the first born, would be free of SCD. Thus the Lalas had five children, three with HbSS.
Yoruba culture does not permit a king or a child to die. When a king dies, his subjects say he has ‘migrated to the ceiling’; when a child dies, s/he is said to have ‘travelled’.
Puzzled as to the sudden disappearance of his sister, Oluwatobi, then 6, often asked his parents of her whereabouts.
‘On each occasion, I was told she had gone abroad,’ he recalls. ‘I accepted what I was told, but a part of me knew it was a lie!’
Blood Transfusion, Blood Studies
Oluwatobi had more that his fair share of severe anaemia warranting blood transfusion. He was always amazed – and grateful – at the renewal of his strength and vigor after each episode. He often wondered what the element was in the red watery substance that transformed waning health to sound health.
By the time he left secondary school, Oluwatobi knew what he wanted to be: a blood detective, so to speak, a hound sniffing out trouble within the human frame before, during and after the emergence of symptoms. Years later he graduated as a biomedical scientist and has found a niche helping doctors and clinicians track down, treat and manage a variety of health conditions, including his own.
Blood Drive Initiative
With a flock of like-minded medical laboratory professionals and undergraduates, Oluwatobi runs a non-governmental organization called the Blood Drive Initiative. The main objective of BDI is to sensitize Nigerian youths to the necessity of helping to raise and maintain the country’s blood supply at an optimum level. Anyone can need blood anywhere, anytime, BDI pronounces. For some with health conditions like sickle cell and thalassemia, the need for blood is constant to reduce the likelihood or severity of complications.
‘Donating blood not only saves lives,’ Oluwatobi says, ‘but it comes with lots of health benefits for the donor.’