A Nigerian lady identified as Ajima Ogbole has demanded justice after AZ Sint-Jan, a Belgian general hospital, allegedly cut off her cervix in error while also leaving her sister-in-law paralysed.
In a video wherein she narrated her ordeal, Ajima said she had visited the hospital in Bruges to seek a solution to her fertility struggles when she was diagnosed with fibroids.
She added that she was advised to undergo a myomectomy, the surgery to take out the fibroids before trying to conceive.
Ajima also disclosed that she had the surgery in November 2017 and returned for a checkup, only to be told by her doctor that her cervix — the narrow end of the uterus that connects with the vagina— couldn’t be found.
“He asked us to come back so he could put me under anesthesia and try to find the cervix. We returned with my husband. When I woke up, I saw I had four holes on my tummy and I was wondering if it was the IUD. He was supposed to put the IUD (intrauterine device) as he felt my cervix was blocked. He later came in to tell us that he couldn’t find my cervix and so he didn’t perform the laparoscopy. He was going to refer me to KU Leuven,” she said.
“We met a professor in Gynecology, which was the best to recreate my cervix. The professor told me that, for the purpose of a pregnancy, a cervix has never been recreated and he hopes for my sake that there was a little hole through which my period will be able to flow out. So he performed investigations and did ultrasounds to see if he could see my cervix, but he couldn’t. So he ushered my husband and I back into his office.
“He explained that the cervix is a muscle that holds the weight of the baby until you’re ready to push and also protects the fetus from infection. He then told me that I couldn’t get pregnant naturally or artificially because the connection between the vagina and the uterus was gone. It was at that point we realized the intensity of the situation. My husband and I then traveled to Nigeria to consult another Gynecology professor and another fertility specialist.”
Attempt to reconstruct missing cervix with surgery fails
Ajima said she underwent laparoscopy a second time in 2018 in a bid to try out reconstructive surgery options to recreate her cervix so there would be a passage through which her period flows can exit her system. She added that the surgery was unsuccessful.
To avoid any complication from having her body absorb back her period, the doctor suggested a second procedure.
“We came back to Belgium and had an appointment with a gynecology professor at the University of Ghent who is specialised in reconstructive surgeries. We saw him and he offered to perform surgery but it was going to be a 20 percent chance of success. By success, he meant to recreate the whole cervix and not for the purpose of getting pregnant if that was successful. I agreed. I had a laparoscopy again sometime in August 2018,” Ajima continued.
“A catheter was put for 10 days. We went back after then and he removed it. We then came back two weeks later for an IUD to be inserted. I was put under anesthesia. And by the time I woke up, his assistant came to inform us that the surgery wasn’t successful. He was still in surgery so he couldn’t see us himself. So he gave us an appointment in two weeks to discuss what I wanted to do and also that my body absorbing back period wasn’t good for my health.
“It can lead to some complications like endometriosis or probably even cancer of the blood. And so we left and when we came back, he offered to try one more surgery. But I wasn’t so sure as my body was exhausted. And I felt a drain psychologically, physically, and emotionally. After some thought, he told me to go and think about it and tell him what I wanted. We came back and I decided to have another surgery which was somewhat successful.”
Surrogacy quest follows but another tragic twist hits
With no cervix to support either artificial or natural conception, Ajima said multiple gynecologists advised that they opt to have a child through surrogacy, an arrangement where a woman carries the child for another who can’t.
After a while of looking for a surrogate who must be legally qualified to bear the child for her and her man, Susan Ogobole, Ajima’s sister-in-law, who was to come to Belgium for her studies, volunteered since she was a resident.
Ajima forwent the US due to cost considerations and went back to the hospital where her error was allegedly made.
“I began to have my period but, after a while, it stopped again. I was supporting and at the point, I had to decide my life was more important than cutting myself and twisting the hand of fate because I wanted to get pregnant by all means. We started to research the process of surrogacy. We found our best option was America. But we couldn’t afford it because it was expensive between $150,000 to $200,000. In Belgium, surrogacy is complicated,” she said.
“It’s a grey zone and hospitals meet the law on who they take as a surrogate and who they shouldn’t. My sister-in-law here who is Susan was then coming to Belgium to study. So she offered to be our surrogate because she was resident in Belgium. It was already easy for us because, for you to be a surrogate in Belgium, you have to be legally resident in Belgium. So when she came again, we started looking for hospitals, but no hospital will take us.
“We came back to the AZ Sint-Jan in Bruges, where my error was made. After embryo creation and a week to the embryo being transferred in Susan, the hospital backed out. They said they wouldn’t be proceeding and no reason was given and we had to transfer, which we did in the first week of February and then moved back to Belgium.”
Ajima said Susan had the baby on the 15th of October 2020 through cesarean section but became paralysed later.
‘They blamed it on African bacteria’ — Susan cries as anesthesia leads to paralysis
Narrating her ordeal, Sussan said she had felt pain when her epidural was administered. In epidurals, an anesthetic is injected in the space around the spinal nerves of one’s lower back to block the pains from labour contractions.
Susan also said that the pain later stopped but she started having leg spasms in the evening after she had birthed the child. This was followed by a partial paralysis from her waist down, where she can neither defecate nor urinate by herself.
“I had to the baby on the 15th of October 2020. I opted for a cesarean and I was told I had to take an epidural. I had wanted general anesthesia but they said in Belgium I had to take the epidural for safety. So I reluctantly obliged and signed the consent form because I didn’t want any complication to happen with the baby. So I went into the theater and I was administered the epidural. In the process of the epidural, I felt pain on the left side of my back,” she said.
“I kept telling the doctor, ‘Oh, I feel pain.’ She kept telling me, ‘Be calm. I’m trying to get the good spot.’ She kept twisting the needle or something else. It felt like a round device. At some point, she found the point she claimed she was looking for. I didn’t feel the pain anymore. So the surgery was carried out successfully. But after I got back into the ward the following day, I was told the epidural pump had to be removed. They did and, at about 8:00, I sat.
“Everything seemed okay but my legs were having spasms. I was told it would wear off. In the evening, I couldn’t feel my legs anymore. They had to look for a neurologist to come and check. She came and said I have to go for an MRI. I’ve had four MRIs. The first two, they said, ‘Oh, we didn’t see anything.’ After the third, they said I had to have a lumbar puncture. I was seeking a lumbar puncture. They said they saw a bacteria but don’t know what it is.
“One of them even suggested that maybe it’s a disease from Africa, tuberculosis, malaria, or cerebral meningitis. They carried out all the tests, yet, didn’t see anything. So the question was, where did the bacteria come from? Was it in the process of administering the epidural it entered my system as a result of not scrubbing me very well? Or is it that the person who administered the epidural didn’t sterilize her equipment properly? Nobody gave an answer.”
According to her, it was after a meeting with the doctors involved that she discovered it was a third-year resident that administered her epidural while the supervisor claimed she just stood by the side.
Susan also demanded justice.
‘They ruined lives, we want justice’ — patient alleges racism
Rounding off, Ajima said the hospital failed to tender a formal apology and carter to their medical bills on request. She also added that AZ Sint-Jan tardily took one week to send Susan’s medical files when she needed a transfer.
“The neurologist hasn’t even stopped by Susan’s room. It’s after we realized all this they brought a rehabilitation doctor, who is black, for us. Why? I feel they dragged him into this for damage control. And also how can two family members of the same race have two rare complications in the hospital. Why was a resident also used in my surgery? These are questions. We even said okay, no apologies. Let’s sit and have a conversation,” Ajima further narrated.
“How do you make our lives easy? What happens to Susan’s medical bills? How can they ruin the two lives of two sisters and nobody is showing any remorse. Nobody feels like we deserve an apology. At first, we thought it was subtle racism but it’s not even subtle. It’s glaring racism. Nobody even comes to us. They feel maybe we’re asking for too much. If it was a family member of one of these doctors, they would have gone above and beyond.
“Even when her file was supposed to be sent to UZ Gent. We kept on pushing. It was sent after a week. We kept on asking them, ‘have you consulted other doctors to find a solution? Have you done this?’ They say, ‘no, can they do it?’ How can you ask a patient? We don’t think the bacteria was involved. I believe her nerve roots were damaged.
“If not, why haven’t they seen the bacteria? They try to blame it on malaria, meningitis, or tuberculosis. We’re lucky Susan did not have a bit of malaria in her blood. They would have held on to that. They told us that it’s a bacteria not found in Caucasians or Europeans. It’s a bacteria found in Africa. Is this not all racism? If everything was done perfectly, why is my sister-in-law in a chair? We feel that this hospital deserves to be investigated. We need justice.”
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