Despite her grotesque look ,Benita Okereke remains optimistic that God would still open her file which has been lying on His celestial table since December 2015.
On December 13,in Obulor Ihetu village, Ishiagu community in Ivo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, 22-year-old , Benita, suffered ill-fate as she was preparing stew as she had an epileptic seizure and slumped into the fire, unconscious.
She was in the fire for close to 20 minutes. By the time somebody noticed what had happened and came to her aid, she had practically roasted in the red-hot flames.
And as if the devil had marked her out for destruction, Benita told Sunday Sun that little children who were at the scene watched her burn without raising the alarm until some good spirits ministered to her mother that something might be wrong in the kitchen. Expectedly, the weird experience spread shockwaves throughout the community.
She suffered third degree burns on the left-hand side of her neck and face. The flesh of the affected parts of the neck, face and upper shoulder ‘joined together’ as a result of tissue adhesion, thereby producing the pathetic look she has today. Yet, there is hope that she can regain some visual appeal if help can come to her today.
With tear drops rolling down her cheeks, Benita narrated her ordeal to Sunday Sun, recalling that she went to the kitchen about 4pm on that fateful day to prepare some stew she uses to sell a local food item called agidi, made from partly fermented, boiled and hardened corn starch, wrapped with special green leaves. According to her, her mother had retired from the business as a result of old age. And with that being their only source of livelihood, she took up the business so that the family could, at least, feed.
“I was preparing stew with which I would sell agidi the next day. The stew was almost done when I suddenly lost consciousness and didn’t know when I fell into the fire.
“I was in the fire unconscious and no one came to my rescue. Little children who were around did not raise the alarm or do anything; they were just moping at me. My mother who was inside the house decided to come to the kitchen to know how I was preparing the stew. She was shocked to see me inside the fire.
“She held me on one leg and pulled me out of the fire. She rushed and carried water and poured on my body. It was at that point that I regained consciousness and realized that I fell into fire.”
Because of paucity of funds, Benita was not given adequate and appropriate medical attention. She revealed that she was subjected to traditional medication which was casually carried out.
“Every morning, my mother would clean me up and lay me back on the bed. And I would sleep on one side. That’s why I can’t stand erect” she said.
Determined to better her lot, Benita who is the last of eight children (now seven following the untimely death of the first daughter), revealed that she resorted to begging. She said that the family depended on the little money she made from begging to feed. But as the financial muscle of the family grew very lean, their mother, Celina, gave out some of her children to live with some privileged families in the cities.
“My mum is unemployed. We have no money to even feed. I go out to beg so we can buy food. All my siblings were adopted by some privileged people. It has been about three years since my father died.”
Rejected by UNTH, Enugu
After she had been able to save some money the alms she received benevolent people, she decided to go to a hospital for treatment. As Benita put it, she crossed the seven proverbial seas and forests to reach the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu. The hospital, located in the sleepy Utuku-Ozalla community in Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu State is quite far away from Benita’s community in Ebonyi State.
“I was taken to University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu for treatment but I was rejected by the hospital management. The doctors and nurses avoided me like the plague because of my condition and asked my mother to check elsewhere.
“They said that we can come back for further treatment when the wound I sustained had healed because according to them, I was suffering an ailment other than the burns. The doctors and nurses completely isolated me. In frustration, I told my mother to take me home. I went home without getting any treatment.
Angelic private nurse to the rescue
Moved by the sufferings of Benita, a nurse attached to a private hospital in Ishiagu community, Favour Hospital and Maternity, Mrs Igwe Justina Obiageri, took it upon herself to dress Benita’s wounds every two days at almost no cost.
Speaking with Sunday Sun, Mrs Igwe said that as a mother, she was emotionally moved to assist the girl. She condemned the medical officers at UNTH for rejecting a patient, saying it was unprofessional.
Igwe disclosed that when she started attending to the victim, she was already decaying. She said that she scooped out a number of maggots from the wound.
“If the medical officers at UNTH had attended to her, her condition wouldn’t have worsened. I found maggots in her wounds and they were biting her. I had to give her tetanus toxide injection.
“Before I started treating her, a putrid smell used to pervade the area around her. You could not even come near her. If you had seen her before now, you would not have believed that she would survive,” she added.
Igwe called on good spirited individuals, especially the Ebonyi State Government to come to Benita’s aid as she needs surgical operation to restore her looks to normal.
Pain, tears of a mother
Benita’s aged mother, Celina Okereke, while interacting with Sunday Sun almost broke down in tears. She lamented that friends, family and close relatives have deserted them.
But not willing to give up on the girl that shut the doors of her womb, Celina said she had sought for solution in the available traditional medicine homes which the family could afford without fruitful result.
“I took her to a number of traditional medicine homes. I have been finding it very difficult to cater to her needs and that of my grandchildren who were abandoned for me by their mothers. I have no helper; I have been managing Benita’s problem without help,” she said.
Celina recalled that Benita started suffering from birth. She was delivered through caesarean surgery. From one problem to the other, the mother and child spent five months in the hospital before the doctors certified them medically fit to go home.
“It was hellish giving birth to Benita. I passed through caesarean operation in a hospital in Abuja. We spent five months in that hospital before the doctors said we could go home,” she recalled.
Benita’s prior woes
For the 22-year-old spinster, life has been very cruel. From the day she was born to her present age, it has been a tale of agony. In fact, if her life were to be a book, it probably would be half-filledl with stories of pain.
She is also epileptic, a condition that began to manifest when she was 12 years old. She recalled that she falls down about seven times every day. She said that the condition has defied several medication. She added that they sold their family land to raise money for her treatment.
“I don’t know why these things are happening to me. They said that my future is very bright; hence, the enemies are hell-bent on cutting it off,” she lamented.
Benita, however, pleaded with Governor David Umahi, the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu and other good spirited individuals to come to her aid.
Her desire is to become a fashion designer and would appreciate vocational skill training in the making of clothes. With skill acquired she would be able to fend for herself and take care of his mother.
In the meantime she desperately needs to undergo corrective surgery to restore her neck region and burnt face to normalcy.
•Benita can be reached through: 07036519048; donations should be sent through the account of the nurse that is caring for her, using the following details: Account Name: Igwe Justina Obiageri. Account Number: 0718525424, Access Bank.