‘I celebrate those who gave me opportunity to touch their lives with my knife’

Obiora with wife

Obiora with wife

Colleagues, family and friends of Dr. Amechi Obiora, one of the co-founders of Eko Hospitals PLC, recently gathered in Lagos to mark his 80th birthday and celebrate his life as an exceptional surgeon. WOLE OYEBADE reports.

He listened to the news with such interest that he could not explain. They were four reverend sisters in the car when the accident occurred. Three died, one went into a coma.

From his experience on the field, the last person may just not survive. And they often don’t from such fatal accidents. “Good luck to her and her doctors”, he said. If only he knew that the accident patient was already waiting couple of wards away and he would either save her or watch her die.

The accident was indeed terrible, as he had calculated. The sister, Evelyn Obialo, was wheeled into the hospital almost in parts. She came in with 16 fractures; eight at the pelvis; two on the femur; two-supracondylar fractures and two around the ankle.

Just some days ago, the physician, Dr. Amechi Obiora, turned 80. Among the family and friends to felicitate with him at the Civic Centre in Lagos was Obialo, who came unaided.

According to Obialo: “God used him to save my life. He did his best and he’s the reason I’m still alive.” Since the encounter in 1999, the sister has become an honorary member of the Obiora family. She is indeed one of many that have crossed the path of the surgeon, but never to part ways.

For Obiora, a co-founder of Eko Hospitals, Evelyn is one of the testimonies of his six-decade career as a surgeon and service to humanity.

Born on August 13, 1936 in Akwa Ibom, though an indigene of Anambra State, Obiora is the first son in a family of 10 children. He attended Central School, Onitsha, then passed on Federal Government scholarship to Edo College, Benin City, Edo State. He later proceeded to Government College, Owerri, Imo State for Higher Schoo, also on scholarship. From there he went to the University College, Ibadan, to study medicine.

The 30-month Nigerian civil war began shortly after he completed his studies and became a “surgeon” on war front. It was an experience that prepared him for the life of “cutting”, “carpentry” and “plumbing” too, all in the art of “repairing” to save lives.

According to Obiora: “The Igbos were being killed everywhere at the time and many returned home. I did too. I treated people during the war and also worked at the rehabilitation committee hospital.

“The war exposed me to a lot of surgeries to the extent that when I travelled to England after the war, the experienced helped me. I returned to Lagos after the war, worked with a private practitioner and later travelled to England. With the few years I spent in LUTH, I couldn’t have garnered much experience in surgery but the knowledge from the civil war helped me a lot.

“In one of the interviews I had in St. Bartholomew’s Hospital which was one of the hospitals I applied to when I got to England, I was asked about my surgical experience and I said appendicectomy; 1,500 plus, herniorrhaphy; 1,500plus, hydrocelectomy- 1,000plus and haemorrhoidectomy- 1,000 plus.

“The panel asked me why I needed a job because the members did not expect me to have done such a number of surgeries. I told the panel that I still needed six months of general surgery before I could take my final fellowship and they laughed. Eventually, I got a job as a junior registrar and also passed my fellowship in surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.  When I left England, I returned to the LUTH.”

Apparently displeased with the “rot, corruption and nepotism” at LUTH, Obiora, with late Dr. Eneli and Dr. Sunny Kuku resigned and went on to found the Eko Hospitals PLC in 1978.

Today at 80, Obiora’s enornous joy is such that is not found in earnings. It is such obtainable in the practice itself and in testimonies of the likes of Sister Obialo and some “anonymous” that owe their life to encounters with him.

“It (his joy) is entailed in meeting people at airports, at parties, on the road, in very many places, who come up to me and ask, ‘Doctor, do you recognise me?’ And when I try to feign recognition, they say, ‘Doctor, you do not recognise me,’ and then show off the scar of incision I might have made on their bodies and tell me, ‘You saved my life.’ This is indeed the greatest pension and gratuity that anybody can have.

“In my 52 years of doing surgery, I only operated on those who needed surgery. The essence of the practice of medicine is the privilege to solve people’s medical problems. My 80th birthday was used to celebrate those who gave me an opportunity to touch their lives with my knife, ” he said.

Obiora urged the young and upcoming ones to endeavour to practice surgery for the love of it and not for financial gains.

He said surgery is not for money making. “I did medicine because I wanted to save lives. Today, there are a lot of attempts to grab money. It is in every profession unfortunately. But I have enjoyed practising surgery the way it should be practiced.”

“The building of a nation consists of having the conscience to work and enjoy the work with absolutely no corrupting inducement or promise of elevation. For me, it is a joy going and feeling I have done my best today. In my society, you remain happy and relatively poor (unless you do pool betting which I do not).

“But the lasting joy that has eluded the emergency contractors and temporary millionaires stay with you. So that, even in death, as your spirit floats over the mourning or mocking faces, you may spot a few who can say, “this was a man.”

Co-founder of Eko Hospitals, Dr. Kuku, said Obiora’s intellect and dedication to the profession made him exceptional.

On how the partnership behind Eko Hospitals has survived all odds, Kuku said: “This partnership has succeeded till date and will continue to survive no matter how much some try. This partnership was made in heaven because we fought and quarreled but we still unite again. For us to have come thus far, it means none of us is greedy.

“Obiora is one friend to have that will help you sleep with both eyes closed. He has a lot of respect for culture and tradition. He is indeed an icon, a super surgeon, an intellectual, traditionalist and above all, a friend and family man.”

Reviewing the celebrant’s new autobiography: “Brushes with my knife: Encounters in my surgical journey”, the Executive Education Director at Lagos Business School, (LBS), Henry Onukwuba, urged health professionals to emulate the virtues of selfless service, passion, integrity and professionalism that Obiora has built as reputation over the years.

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