What’s in a Name: A Young Nigerian Girl’s Win Over TB and Paralysis

Speeches Shim

A small bump on the back turned out to be deadly Pott's disease
Blessing Ihunwo and her daughter Winner, who contracted potentially deadly Pott’s disease following a minor injury.
Challenge TB
Hospital doctors counsel families on transmission and prevention
“After just two weeks, she showed significant improvement and is out of danger.”

February 2018—For Blessing Ihunwo, putting her faith in modern medicine saved her young daughter Winner from paralysis when a hospital doctor diagnosed and treated an otherwise potentially deadly variety of juvenile tuberculosis (TB).

With four lively kids, Ihunwo wasn’t too worried when 7-year-old Winner fell while playing at their home in the Obio Akpor local governance area of Rivers state, Nigeria. Winner later developed a lump on her back and, although it looked strange, it didn’t initially hurt much, so Ihunwo dismissed it as “just a bump.”

But the swelling grew, and became tender and painful for Winner, who also began having trouble moving her limbs properly. Now concerned, Ihunwo first took the child to a traditional healer, which did little to improve the situation. She then sought more spiritual help.

Officials at her church looked at the child and advised her that Winner required medical intervention. They referred her to the University of Port-Harcourt Teaching Hospital for a consultation, and provided a small sum to pay for the visit.

The hospital admitted Winner to the thoracic clinic, where she was examined by a doctor working with a team from a USAID program, Challenge TB, to conduct a monthly visit. The pediatrician immediately recognized the swelling as a symptom of a form of childhood TB known as Pott’s disease, and not related to her fall at all.

Children are especially prone to this form of spinal TB, which, if left untreated, can lead to a collapse in the vertebrae and cause paralysis in one or both legs. The diagnosis was confirmed with a chest X-ray, and Winner was immediately placed on the appropriate anti-TB treatment regimen.

Less than two months later, Winner is already showing signs of improvement. The pain and swelling have diminished almost completely, and function in her legs is restored to where she can walk, run and play again. And a slight case of scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, brought on by the TB has straightened.

As part of the Challenge TB mission, doctors counseled Ihunwo and her entire family on the basics of how TB can spread through the air and how to prevent it. The clinic tested Winner’s family and close friends, and no one else was found to be infected. Ihunwo learned how to adhere to the 12-month treatment regimen that Winner must complete before being completely rid of the disease and orthopedically sound.

“When Winner came for treatment, she was in such pain she had to be carried around. But after just two weeks, she showed significant improvement and is out of danger,” said Anyanwa Beatrice, the health care worker who supervised the girl’s treatment at the hospital. “Pott’s disease strikes the spine rather than the lungs. The bacteria are transmitted the same way. Awareness is the key to eradicating either form.”

Challenge TB, a five-year global program that began in 2015, is designed to decrease TB mortality and morbidity in TB-burdened countries like Nigeria by improving access to quality patient-centered care for TB and HIV/AIDS, preventing transmission and progression of the diseases, and raising public awareness. The program operates through an eight-member international consortium led by the KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation.

In the last two years, Challenge TB ensured that more than 80,000 Nigerians infected with TB were diagnosed and treated, about 40 percent of the cases in Nigeria. In collaboration with Nigeria’s National TB and Leprosy Control Program, in 2017, Challenge TB began rolling out new treatments for multidrug-resistant TB to improve recovery from the disease.


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