It was September 17 and as she walked gracefully to the podium, I was expecting the routine speech about Patient Safety and how Healthcare could be made better, if only medical professionals could engage their patients more. At that point in the event (if you asked me), I guessed the audience was probably itching for the event to end, so they could leave. More so, this was a Sunday and people might just want to go home, rest and prepare for the new week.
Yet, something in me stirred. Perhaps, it was the way she walked to the podium. I sat up. Who knows, hers might be a different speech, altogether, my intuition warned.
Mrs. Toyin Lolu-Ogunmade, founder and owner of Precious Conceptions Nigeria Limited, was the third in line among speakers who had been invited to the podium, at the 2023 edition of World Patient Safety Day event organized by the Health Facilities Accreditation and Monitoring Agency (HEFAMAA). Venue was the premises of the Gbagada General Hospital, Gbagada, Lagos.
Earlier, as the event started, she had walked in with two children and my questioning mind wondered why a guest would come to this formal event with children. Again, I told myself, “well, it’s a Sunday and, perhaps, mother and children had to come to the event after a church service, as she probably did not have that spare time to drop them off at home.”
Mrs. Lolu-Ogunmade got on the podium and introduced herself, after the usual courtesies.
“I am a fertility counselor”, she introduced. “an advocate and also a family-building consultant. What I do is to help people who are trying to have children the legal way and, it is because I was also a victim.”
At that point, other guests had sat up in their chairs. Yes, my intuition was confirmed, after all and, like an electric current, I could feel that spark of interest and attention which now coursed through the audience.
She briefly narrated how she almost became a statistic in the data of fatalities of unsafe medical care as shared earlier in the event, by another speaker, Dr. Abiola Idowu, Executive Secretary of Health Facilities Monitoring and Accreditation Agency.
“I was the victim of a surgical error. I went in for a surgery that should cure a disease and I came out, unable to have children. So, I went through several corrective surgeries again and the diagnosis was I could never be able to carry children…but today, I’m a mum.”
Her statement brought a mixture of grief and relief and dramatically changed the ambience of the event. Pointing to the two children in the audience, Mrs. Lolu-Ogunmade continued.
“My twins are here. They are sitting right there in the audience.”
As the audience turned in their seats to look at the two beautiful kids of Mrs. Lolu-Ogunmade, it suddenly dawned on me, why the two children would come to this formal event. Of course, they were the epitome of the story, a narrative of her turnaround from adversity to change-making.
Saying she had been rather public about her journey, Mrs Lolu-Ogunmade narrated how she became a mother through surrogacy and how a “generous, fantastic Indian woman carried my children” (in her womb).
“It took me thirteen years to have these beautiful children. Thirteen years of heartbreak and pain. Coming back from that surgery in 2006, I didn’t know that what I thought would help me would become the worst issue in my life, but it became a turnaround point and, today, I’m an advocate.”
From that point onwards, Mrs. Lolu-Ogunmade decided to speak out, because she believed she could help people in Nigeria, who might be going through the same difficulty she had passed through.
“A lot of women are committing suicide and a lot of women are helpless; they are labeling them ‘witches’ and calling them ‘barren’ and I decided I was going to speak out. So, through my pain; through my heartache, I decided I was going to learn and, so, a kind doctor took me along.”
She underwent training under the tutelage of a medical doctor and became a fertility counselor and an advocate. According to her, over a hundred babies have been born through her work at Precious Conceptions, the consultancy firm she founded.
Hers is a typical heroic story. Mrs. Toyin Lolu-Ogunmade was able to turn learnings from her painful experience into a solution for women like her.
She explained that talking about Patient Safety was important for her, because every day, millions of people go into hospitals, but come back damaged. She admonished doctors and healthcare providers that patients and families of patients are often affected by the decisions made by heathcare providers.
“Realize that that person sitting in front of you is a human being and you need to make critical decisions concerning them. So, whatever it is you are going to do, please, the first thing you should know is, these are human beings and that their lives are in your hands. Please handle with care.”, she advised.
Mrs. Lolu-Ogunmade also urged people who go through serious challenges to speak up.
”If your body starts to misbehave in funny ways, please let your doctor know. A lot of the issues we see and that doctors face for secondary referrals and all, can be easily reversed, managed, treated and cured if patients can learn to speak up on time.”
She stated that quite often, patients are afraid to go back to their doctors, due to reasons such as poverty, poor communication and ignorance. She also emphasised the importance of patient education.
”It’s good to educate them (patients) on the medicines they are using. Some doctors still cover the names of medicines they give their patients. Some doctors still do not allow their patients to have access to their clinical files. I don’t see a reason why this should still be, at this time.
“When patients know that their doctors are empowering them -even the nurses and the technicians- to speak up, that fear will be eliminated. That’s number one. The ignorance will be eliminated. That’s number two and when you eliminate ignorance, you are eliminating stigmatization.”
On the issue of stigmatization, Mrs Lolu-Ogunmade noted that a lot of people do not speak up, because of the fear of stigmatization,
She further advised that doctors should learn to be be friendly with their patients. According to her, such doctor-patient relationship will enhance quick interventions, such that ailments which are presented early enough do not degenerate into serious conditions or fatalities, later on.
She admonished people going through difficulties to also realize that there are other people in their shoes, who might learn from them.
“Whatever it is that you find yourself going through, if you have a group of people who are also going through that situation, speak up.”
She encouraged patients to have support groups, speak up and learn from one another and, if there are serious cases that they need to bring up and promote, then they can jointly speak to organizations like HEFAMAA.
The founder of Precious Conceptions Nigeria Limited concluded her speech, to a loud ovation from the audience.
”We should embolden patients to be able to take their matters into their own hands and to speak, concerning their health and wellness. Thank you. I hope I’ve been able to make some sense”, she said, as she concluded her speech at the just concluded World Patient Safety Day 2023.
As I joined other guests to clap at the end of her inspiring speech, I could not take my mind away from the takeaway from her speech: how the painful and sometimes life-threatening experience of one individual can help make the lives of others better and lead to stories of change in the lives of millions of people.
It was my first time of attending the World Patient Safety Day event, which I heard HEFAMAA has made it a tradition to commemorate (I hear the agency also organized an event to mark the day, last year) and I thought to myself I could not have spent that day in a better way.