On January 19, 2021, Princewill Chigbu, 17, walked unassisted into the Cardiology unit of Babcock University Teaching Hospital (BUTH) to undergo a surgery to correct the hole in his heart.
Through donations, his mother, a widow who runs petty jobs, managed to raise N5million for the surgery. The surgical process began on January 24 and was then suspended. Two times, one week apart, he convulsed and went into a five-day coma.
The hospital first blamed malaria and then Covid-19. But Mrs Franca Chigbu accuses BUTH of extorting and worsening her son’s situation by giving him excessive IV fluid drip and strong antibiotics.
HOLE IN THE HEART AT NINE
Franca first knew that her son had a hole in the heart at age nine when he fell sick and was taken to Ajegunle Medical Centre. Before then, she noticed that his nails and tongue were dark, he did not eat much and he always avoided strenuous activities.
“I thought he would out-grow all these things,” she says.
She was advised to take her son to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) to see a cardiologist and undergo tests. Having heard an estimate of how much she would spend on the tests and having been told she might have to take her son abroad for a surgery, Franca suspended going to LASUTH when Princewill recovered.
“I am a widow,” she says. “I got scared because I didn’t have the money for such treatment.”
STUNTED GROWTH AT 14
When she noticed that his growth was stunted at age 14, she took him to LASUTH, where three tests were recommended: a computed tomography scan, which is like an x-ray but gives more information; an electrocardiogram, which measures electric activity of the heart; and an echocardiography, which gives live images of the heart.
While the first two tests were done, she could not afford the sum of N50,000 for the last. The old student’s association of Princewill’s school subsequently gave her the money and the test was done.
Cardiologists at LASUTH diagnosed Princewill with Tetralogy of Fallot, a rare condition present at birth and caused by a combination of four heart defects that affect the structure of the heart, and cause oxygen-poor blood to flow out of the heart and to other parts of the body.
He was referred to Tristate Heart and Vascular Centre, Babcock University Teaching Hospital, for surgery.
BABCOCK INCREASES SURGERY FEES AT SHORT NOTICE
Franca, whose husband died eight years ago leaving her with four children to care for, was distressed when she was billed N3.625 million by Babcock in September 2020. But with help from a non-governmental organisation and donations from members of the public, the money was raised in three months and paid to BUTH in instalments.
When the last instalment was made, she was told by the BUTH that the fee had been increased to N5 million.
“The accountant agreed that we should pay in instalments and all those times we were going to deposit the money, they never told us it had been increased,” says Emmanuel Etu, President-General of Ajegunle Great Elites Association, a humanitarian service NGO.
“We were surprised when they suddenly told us that the procedure had been increased because of Covid-19. I felt bitter because I was uncomfortable going to tell people that we wanted more money.”
Independent, public-interest journalism has never been more vital than in times like this when truth is constantly being suppressed. With your support, it will be easier for us to continue speaking truth to power and preserving your right to know.
Make a donation to FIJ today
MORE ANTIBIOTICS THAN A WEAK HEART COULD TAKE
Five days after Princewill was admitted to BUTH, following the eventual payment of N5 million, the road to surgery began. His mum told FIJ that her son convulsed twice in two weeks and went into a five-day coma. Doctors first told her that it was caused by malaria; they would later blame it on Covid-19.
“The first time they injected him with whatever they gave him, he began vibrating and his eyes were up, but they managed to revive him. A week later, the same thing happened and he went into coma,” she says.
Franca heard a consultant tell medical staff that the antibiotics they gave him were too strong and that they should be replaced.
“I also noticed that my son was given a lot of drips. When I raised my concerns, they told me that they knew what they were doing.”
Although the surgery was suspended following the incidents, BUTH continued billing them – deducting from the N5million they deposited.
“BUTH continued to bill us for a problem they caused. He walked into this place by himself; got on the bed unassisted. But now, his situation has worsened because of what they gave him,” Franca says. “Since he woke from the coma, his eyes have remained open; he can’t talk or eat.”
She told FIJ that a bill of N1,470,740 million had been sent to her for a treatment not related to the surgery, when her son is not feeling well yet.
“It is wicked,” says Etu. “With what they are doing, when he is well enough to undergo the surgery, they will tell us that we should bring more money. We suspect that it is a plot to extort money from the poor widow.”
BABCOCK DECLINES TO SPEAK
When FIJ contacted Dr John Sotunsa, Director of Clinical Services at Babcock University Teaching Hospital, he declined to give comments, citing the right to privacy of the patient as a reason.
However, a medical expert told FIJ that if BUTH gave the “right dose”, the patient would not go into coma.
“For a child, you calculate per kilogramme the weight of that child, so no trouble is supposed to arise because of the strength of the antibiotics,” he says.
He suspects that Princewill was given more drip than the heart could pump and advised that the case note should be examined in order to know what went wrong.
“This patient has Tetralogy of Fallot; his heart cannot take so much fluid,” he adds. “It is possible that it is so bad that the child cannot take in fluids — because the fluid that is given is pumped by the heart, and the heart, in this case, is weak because of the defects.”
THE ULTIMATE FEAR
Now, Franca and Etu fear Babcock could continue deducting from the N5million deposit when the surgery hasn’t begun yet, and when the health conditions preventing the surgery are due to the hospital’s mishandling of Princewill.
“If there is anything that can be done…. because by way of psychology, this hospital is preparing a bill that will be removed from that N5million,” Etu says.
“If they can present a bill of N1.4million when the boy is still unconscious, then when he recovers, I’m sure they are going to ask for more than half of that money that is already deposited with them.”
Be the first to receive special investigative reports and features in your inbox.