Forgiveness - the need to forgive - is a creed
    preached by all religions. As a Muslim, a devout
    one for that matter, Mrs. Mujidatu Adepetu is
    well aware of the injunction to forgive and
    forget. But to overlook the sins and annoyances
    of a particular cotenant in her dwelling place in
    Sagamu, Ogun State of Nigeria, Adepetu finds
    very hard indeed.

    The cotenant, amazed at the frequency at which
    one of Adepetu's last-born twin boys receives
    blood transfusions, constantly accuses her of
    being a 'vampire', sucking her own child's blood!
    Caught to the quick because of the injustice of
    the accusation, and riled by the many endless
    hours of hospitalization, the huge bills which
    once led her to sell her property, including land
    and furniture as well as debts incurred to treat
    the child, Adepetu, enamoured by the Mosaic
    law of vengeance, daily invites the spiritual
    forces to make the other woman suck her own
    children's blood too!

Adepetu is not likely to have learnt that a philosopher once described other people as 'hell'; yet, for her, hell is that co-tenant who derives so
much joy, so much satisfaction in seeing her kiss the dust over the fate of her special child.

That special child, Taiwo, the only one with SS among seven siblings, constantly assures his mother he would one day repay her for
standing by him. He himself knows one of his mother's friends who, incredible as it sounds, ignored her child with the same illness. She
wishes to spend her earnings on 'tangible things', his mother's friend used to say, as opposed to being slowly dragged to poverty by her
son's unrelenting illness. The child eventually died.

'Sometimes I feel like turning away myself,' admits Adepetu, 'but I just cannot help it when he cries out in pain.'

Taiwo presented with foot swelling at 3 years but was twice misdiagnosed as a mere carrier of the sickle cell gene. His mother knew nothing
about sickle cell at the time, but a relative, a nurse, prophetically warned her to be prepared to spend a lot of money raising the child.

Unlike many who hide the existence of sickle cell in the family from others, Adepetu talks openly about his condition to his teachers and
friends 'so they would deal judiciously with him'.

In Africa, the emotional burden of illness often falls on the woman while the financial brunt falls on the man. In Adepetu's case, however,
the situation is different. Married to a serial polygamist with many more loads than hers alone to carry, she has had to bear single-handedly
both the psychological and financial cost of caring not just for her special child, but for his six siblings as well. Though sympathetic to his
suffering, his siblings occasionally express resentment at the way his frequent illnesses gulp the family's lean financial resources. Sometimes
they have had to keep away from school as their mother runs up and down incurring debts to pay for his hospital treatment.

Like most other boys, Taiwo loves playing football and draws from his meager reserves of strength to keep pace with his twin brother and
their cohort. Warnings to keep away from over-exertion fall on deaf ears: he forgets quickly that none of his mates had ever been transfused
or hospitalized before, compared to his own 28 blood transfusions and almost as many rounds of hospital admissions at just 16 years of age.

Adepetu's advocacy for people living with sickle cell and their families is robust. Anytime she is given opportunity to speak at any social
gathering, she calls on the Nigerian government to provide free and wholesome hospital care for children and adults with sickle cell.

'Parents of children with sickle cell,' she says, 'cannot bear the financial burden alone. Government should come to our aid - and urgently too!'

More than her advocacy, Adepetu has become an evangelist of sorts for the prevention of sickle cell births.

'It's just too time-consuming, too costly, too emotionally-draining,' she says, frowning her thoughts, 'to raise a child with sickle cell.'

She tells Taiwo not to repeat the mistakes of his parents' ignorance by keeping away from sickle cell in marriage and equally admonishes his
siblings - some of whom are sickle cell carriers - to learn from and profit by what they had witnessed in their sibling. And in herself.
The Neighbour Calls Her A Vampire!
By Abro Onyekwe, Writer/Correspondent
Mujidatu Adepetu and Taiwo
ISSN 2141-1093

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