By Chidi Anselm Odinkalu
One year ago, Ameyo Stella Adadevoh died, killed by the Ebola Virus Disease. A much admired consultant endocrinologist, Ameyo led the team that managed the index patient, Patrick Sawyer, who brought the EVD into Nigeria from Liberia. She was one of the 20 persons who caught the virus in Nigeria and one of the eight that it killed.
In a tribute published in October 2014, The Guardian in London described her as “an Ebola victim and everyday hero.” The newspaper acknowledged that “Without her dedication, it is quite possible that the World Health Organisation would not have declared Nigeria – the most populous country in Africa – Ebola-free”, adding that “the significance of her actions, and those of her hospital colleagues, cannot be overstated.”
Ameyo walked an improbable path to heroism. A second generation medical professional, her chosen path was the care of her patients (amongst whom the present writer counts as one) who in turn, swore by her. But her remarkable professionalism also made her a natural frontline for the care patients with serious infections in Nigeria’s entry point, Lagos. With her colleague and Chief Medical Director, Benjamin Ohiaeri, Ameyo built the First Consultants Medical Centre in Lagos into one of the most trusted centres of care in the country and beyond.
When the Liberian diplomat, Patrick Sawyer, walked into the country late on July 20, 2014, he was already terminally infected with the EVD. From the airport, Sawyer (who arrived with serious symptoms of ill-health) could have had a choice of any number of hospitals or clinics in or around Ikeja, the location of the international airport in Lagos. He could also easily have ended up in a hospital anywhere in the Lagos Mainland. Yet, he ended up at the First Consultants where he would become patient to Ameyo and her valiant team of carers.
Upon admission, Sawyer “denied having been in contact with any person with EVD at home, in any hospital or at any burial.” This was false. Sawyer’s sister, it turned out, had died of the EVD two weeks before his fateful trip to Nigeria.
By the following day, July 21, Sawyer’s employers, the Economic Commission of West African States, were putting the hospital under pressure to release him so he could fly to a meeting in Calabar, in the South-South of Nigeria.
Ada Igono, Ameyo’s younger colleague on the team that cared for Sawyer (and who would go on to survive the EVD), wrote that upon learning of this, Ameyo “instructed me to write very boldly on his chart that on no account should Sawyer be allowed out of the hospital premises without the permission of Dr. Ohiaeri, our Chief Medical Consultant. All nurses and doctors were duly informed. During our early morning ward round with Dr. Adadevoh, we concluded that this was not malaria and that the patient needed to be screened for Ebola Viral Disease. She immediately started calling laboratories to find out where the test could be carried out.”
Ameyo herself testified that once this became apparent, she “immediately isolated/quarantined the patient, commenced barrier nursing and simultaneously contacted the Lagos State Ministry of Health and the Federal Ministry of Health to enquire where further laboratory tests could be performed as we had a high index of suspicion of possible EVD. We refused for him to be let out of the hospital in spite of intense pressure.”
Two days later, the diagnosis of the EVD on Sawyer was confirmed. On July 25, he was dead. Well before this time, however, he had exposed a member of staff and patients at the hospital to the deadly virus.
Eschewing recourse to the default mode of panic, Ameyo was methodical in responding to this crisis. She worked with the Lagos State Government to manage the discharge of all her patients and decontamination of the hospital and to set up identification and monitoring of all patients who had passed through the hospital during the period since Sawyer’s admission. But for the determined and proactive measures led by Ameyo and her team, the consequence would have been catastrophic.
In the then Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, Ameyo found a willing and committed partner against the EVD in Nigeria. From the difficulties of the encounter with the EVD and with the loyalty of patients for whom memories of Ameyo remain a rallying point, First Consultants have been rebuilt.
Ameyo made the ultimate price to prevent the spread of the EVD in Nigeria and preclude a much wider global public health crisis. For this, Nigerians were united in gratitude at her passing and the world offered admiration and thanks too.
Left without a headstone to lay any bouquets in her memory, Ameyo’s family, including her son, siblings, and aged mother, as well as the many patients who owe their lives to her, are left with testimonies of an exceptional person and professional who lives on in the lives for whose sustenance she gave up hers.
In death, Ameyo achieved heroic immortality. On this anniversary of her passing, we remember all the medical professionals who made the ultimate price in fighting the Ebola Virus Disease, especially, our very own Ameyo Stella Adadevoh.
At a very well-attended memorial Mass for Ameyo at the Holy Cross Cathedral in Lagos on September 12, 2014, the officiating priest provided perhaps the most fitting epitaph to Ameyo: “Her name is Stella. She was a star even unto death. She deserves to be honoured, immortalised.” Our tears are still fresh; our gratitude is eternal.
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