First Team brothers-in-arms provide medical outreach in Nigeria
August 22, 2013
FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Col. (Dr.) Niel Johnson, a Family medicine physician and command surgeon, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, could have spent his yearly vacation performing with his barbershop quartet group this winter at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Instead, he chose to join Capt. Tolulope Adeyemi, a medical logistics officer and deputy surgeon, 1st TSC, on a summer trip to Nigeria in West Africa to provide free medical care for the people in Adeyemi's village of Ode-Remo and Zion Pepe community in the Ondo State of Nigeria.
Not only is Adeyemi an officer in the U.S. Army, he is also a prince and royalty in the Yorubaland of Nigeria.
"In my tribe, they call us 'omoba nle okuu' (Prince from a clan of Okuu), 'oba ni ola' (our King of tomorrow). One thing is that everything may go away from people, but your lineage entitlement can never go away," said Adeyemi. "There is an adage in Yoruba land 'If you do not know where you are going, at least know where you are coming from.'"
Adeyemi is a U.S. citizen but his parents and many members of his Family are still in Nigeria where he grew up.
"I've always been impressed with his (Adeyemi) work ethic since I've known him. Very diligent, exhaustively complete and he never complains," said Johnson, a Medford, N.J. native.
Adeyemi and Johnson have a lot in common. They are close in age, have been in the Army for years (Adeyemi was prior enlisted before becoming an officer), served in combat and are dedicated to their country and Families. Forty-five years ago, a trip like this would not have been possible -- because of one difference -- the color of their skin.
It all started with a brief office conversation and Adeyemi's offer for Johnson to join him on a trip home to his village in Ode-Remo and Zion Pepe community in the Ondo State of Nigeria.
After accepting Adeyemi's offer, Johnson had his Nigerian Visa, plane tickets and his medical aid bag in hand. On June 13, he was on his way. Adeyemi flew to Nigeria ahead of Johnson and met him when he arrived. After a 13-and-a-half hour flight and a seven-hour trip by car, Johnson and Adeyemi arrived in Zion Pepe Community, which is located along the Atlantic coastline on the southwestern tip of Ondo State.
Johnson and Adeyemi, in conjunction with a local industrialist, Raphael Danilola, and a local support staff, brought medical care to people who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to see a doctor or benefit from the hypertension screening and malaria prevention clinic.
Adeyemi said that the clinic is held every year in different villages but this year the patient turnout was unprecedented. When the screening time ended, he said more than 2,000 patients had been seen by the team and more than 1,000 people were still waiting.
Ondo State people speak a variant of the Yoruba language. Adeyemi and a group of translators were able to translate for the patients who did not know the English language. The medical team quickly got to work checking patients' blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, treating and other minor medical conditions. Those who could not be treated were referred to other medical facilities outside the state.
Johnson said many of the patients were women and children. Except for malaria, the majority of the patients suffered from the same health issues that are of concern in the United States -- hypertension, diabetes and cataracts, arthritis and others. Although the people appeared fit, did not smoke and had natural well-balanced diets, there were many who required prescription medicine and would need to follow up with the village doctor.
Unaware that he would be seeing a large amount of patients with cataracts, Johnson did not bring ophthalmologic equipment. He quickly found a solution and was able to improvise with the bottom of a Coke bottle for magnification and a pinhole card to conduct visual acuity tests.
"I felt like a med student at times, performing aspects of my physical exams without any equipment," said Dr. Johnson.
In addition to ophthalmology, another medical service Johnson and the team did not expect to address was fertility and Family planning. Many women were concerned that they were unable to conceive but did not know why. Johnson and Adeyemi educated the women using a fertility calendar drawn with charcoal explaining when the most fertile days would be for them.
"I didn't get to deliver any babies while we were there, but I did diagnose two women as being pregnant who did not know before that they were," said Johnson. "Just like in North Carolina, absence of menses, abdominal bloating and occasional kicking in the abdomen tend to make one suspicious of pregnancy. We didn't have any rapid pregnancy tests, but I was able to pick up good fetal heart tones with just my stethoscope; old fashioned rules prevail once again."
Reverend Orofin Leviticus, a patient at the clinic said in an interview with a local reporter, "This kind of program will go a long way to prevent sickness among our people. Many of us don't know anything about this hypertension thing and with the enlightenment - we know now what to eat, what to do and how to control it. A lot of lives will be saved by this program. We thank God for the organizers."
The patients at the clinic were not the only ones to benefit from Johnson and Adeyemi's trip.
Adeyemi said that a team of medical doctors thanked Dr. Johnson for the things that he taught them and that they would like to work with him again.
Although Johnson returned to the U.S. with an empty medical aid bag, he said he brought back more than he left with.
"I expected to come back more appreciative but I am also inspired," said Johnson. "I really did see people on the edge of the envelope and will never forget them. I learned to embrace 'Ma'a worrie,' meaning 'No worry.'"
Swinging monkeys, 12-foot high termite mounds and livestock meandering on the roads were a few things Johnson saw during the trip. But the most eye-opening thing that he saw were the people who he said will forever be a treasured memory from his trip to Nigeria. People with nothing but a roof over their heads, clothes on their back, shoes made from water bottles and food on their table, but what they did have - they were ready to share.
"You don't realize how blessed we are and how little material things matter," said Johnson.
This was not the first trip out of the country for Johnson to treat patients and he said it will not be his last.
"When they asked me if I would return I answered them honestly and promised that I will definitely come back. I hope to visit more villages next time and bring more supplies and equipment."