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Sunday

How my 4-yr-old daughter with cerebral palsy was tortured by her physiotherapist —Mother

A mother and author of ‘Diary of a Special Needs Mum,’ Mrs. Bukola Ayinde, tells ARUKAINO UMUKORO about her pains on finding out that her four-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy was physically abused by her physiotherapist.

When was your daughter born and how did you feel when the doctor first told you she had cerebral palsy?
I had my daughter, Oluwalonimi, on a Sunday morning, in December, 2012. It was an emergency Caesarean operation. The doctor said I had gestational hypertension and severe pre-eclampsia. The operation was successful; my daughter cried at birth and she was fine. Nimmy, as we fondly call her, weighed 1.2kg at birth and she was born premature at 31 weeks. She had to be placed in an incubator. She spent her first six weeks in an incubator. She was doing well until she had an apneic episode, which is a disorder that causes one to stop breathing briefly. Thereby she suffered loss of oxygen to the brain. At that moment I didn’t realise there was any danger in what happened. By the time she left the hospital, she weighed 2.2kg and she was feeding through a feeding bottle.
When my daughter was four months, I complained that she wasn’t able to hold her head properly. The doctors said that being a premature baby, she may have delayed milestones, and they told me to be patient. My husband’s aunt saw my daughter and insisted I take her back for a proper medical checkup. An MRI scan was carried out on her brain and the result came back as normal. We were hopeful that she would catch up with her milestones, but the doctors diagnosed cerebral palsy and treated her in that line. That was where the journey began.
How have you been coping with raising a child with special needs?
I spoke with two pediatricians who said there was no cure and that I should stick to physiotherapy. I bought books and I read everything I could lay my hands on. We started taking her for physiotherapy at Physical Therapy Centre, Lagos. I came across a book written by a special needs mum. Based on her story, I got in touch with her child’s therapist. The lady recommended I take Nimmy to a specialised school in Lagos. Nimmy was there for six weeks. Then I read another book about a woman who took her son to a school for children with cerebral palsy in Hungary. I contacted the school and registered her for their summer programme. This programme was for a month, but it was very impactful.
What led to your introduction to the physiotherapist whom you said maltreated your daughter?
When we got back to Nigeria, we knew we couldn’t afford to keep Nimmy in the school in Hungary, because the one-month trip was very expensive. We also knew that going once a year will not help her condition. Someone then introduced me to a therapist who helped the way she could, but she told me I needed to get a very good physiotherapist. Coincidentally, I read about a special needs mum who shared her son’s success story in a church’s magazine. I got in touch with the church; I collected the woman’s telephone number and told her I needed a very good physiotherapist. She recommended Bisola Abayomi Ojo.
I told my daughter’s therapist that someone recommended Bisola to me. She said she knew Bisola and that she was very good at her job. She said I should convince my husband to suspend going to Hungary for two years and dedicate that money to paying Bisola. She assured me that I would see a great improvement with Nimmy. However, she told me the reason she had not referred Bisola to me earlier was because Bisola refused to work with a child with special needs that she had referred to her. She said Bisola didn’t want to work with her because they had earlier had a fallout while working together with a client’s child. By that time, I had worked with several therapists and I knew that when one had more than one therapist working with a child, there was bound to be some form of misunderstanding. So I didn’t let that bother me. I spoke with my speech therapist, who also mentioned she also had a fallout when he and Bisola worked together with a client’s child. Bisola started working with Nimmy in 2014. She was dedicated to her job. She was the first therapist that gave us a monthly report about our daughter. She would educate us about feeding, nurturing and overall wellbeing.
Were there any time before the CCTV footage discovery in 2016 that you felt something was not right with how she was handling your daughter?
No. The therapy started at home and she never showed any sign of aggressiveness. In fact, you could describe her as sweet girl. I became an ardent supporter and a friend. Before we made any decision about Nimmy, we would ask for Bisola’s opinion. Early in 2016, I started noticing that my daughter was withdrawn, she stopped smiling. I was told by her caregiver that she was not responding in school and she had stopped attempting to answer questions. There were times we would get to school in the morning and she would start crying. She couldn’t express herself. Apart from her sounds, numbers and colours, she couldn’t say anything more. We had to read her body language to understand her needs. As a toddler, Nimmy was always smiling and playful, but gradually she had become non-responsive. Also, early that year, my husband and I decided we couldn’t afford to pay Bisola three times a week anymore. So, we told her we were going to reduce it to two times a week. She requested that we give her one more month to work with Nimmy before we reduced the number of sessions. Bisola used to have therapy sessions with my daughter in her school.
In June 2016, Nimmy’s proprietress at Supreme House Montessori School requested that my husband and I come for a meeting in the school. When we got to the school, she told us that Bisola had manhandled our daughter. At the back of my mind, I felt it was all exaggerated, but when I watched the CCTV footage, I was sad; I didn’t know how to express my feelings. We watched an hour session where Bisola tortured our daughter.
It was heart-breaking to see my daughter treated by a health worker in such a barbaric act. I watched my daughter as she fell down several times hitting her head on the tiles. There were times she hit her head on the edge of the wooden bed before falling to the ground.
Her physiotherapist slapped her three times; the third time with her cell phone. She left her head hanging upside for five minutes. She twisted my daughter’s hands several times; at a point she sat on her hands, at another point she tied her hands behind her head. I watched as my daughter fell from her chair while her neck was stuck in between the space at the vertical back rest and the flat wood used for sitting down. I watched on as this lady typed on her phone 90 per cent of the time, only taking some time off to torture my daughter. She took out time to take her selfie, up to five times.
After we watched the recording, my heart bled. My husband could not control his tears. He was bent over in agony. I watched him cry and I envied him. I envied him because he could cry, but I could not; I was numb. I am sure the proprietress looked at me and thought to herself that, “This woman is strange, she couldn’t even cry.”
What were the thoughts going through your mind after you saw the CCTV footage and what did you do?
I have to say this, a special needs mum is a broken woman. There is nothing that tears a woman apart than seeing her child helpless and considered challenged and there is little that she can do. On a daily basis, it takes away one’s energy, self-esteem and, if one is not careful, one’s sanity. I kept asking myself, what if the proprietress was not at her desk and her eyes did not go to the TV at that time? This could have gone on for a long time without us knowing what was happening to Nimmy. I got home and kept thinking, where did I go wrong? I asked the nanny that follows my daughter to school why Bisola was alone with Nimmy. She said Bisola asked her to step out of the room that my daughter was not cooperating because the nanny was there.
My husband and I took Nimmy to see Prof. Afolabi Lesi, a paediatric neurologist at the University of Lagos. He told us he was worried about the number of times she hit her head, but it was too late for an MRI. An MRI should have been done around the period the abuse was done to determine if there was any damage to the brain. Bisola was due to travel for her Mandela Washington programme two days later, but I did not know her house address and I knew that because she had a valid US Visa, if I had alerted her at that time, she would run. We kept quiet and allowed her to finish her programme and come back to the country. The truth was we didn’t really know how to handle the matter.
When you confronted her with the CCTV footage, what was her reaction?
My husband and I decided she should come over to our house with her husband for a meeting. She said she couldn’t come with her husband because they had issues. I asked her to come with her family member, but she said she had none in Nigeria. I then asked her to come with her pastor. She replied that she was a Catholic and she couldn’t come with a priest. Finally, I asked her to come with a friend; but she said her only friend had relocated to the US last year. She asked if she could come alone. We told her that wasn’t possible. It became obvious she was playing games with us and we decided to report the matter to the Medical Rehabilitation Therapists Board of Nigeria.
When I showed the Registrar, Mrs. Akanle, the video, she was very disturbed. She immediately requested that we arrest Bisola. When we arrived at the first police station at Shogunle, we were told we should go to the nearest police station to her house. The Divisional Police Officer, being a woman, was enraged when she watched the video. She gave us some of her officers to follow us to Bisola’s house. When Bisola discovered that there were police officers at her house, she locked herself up for more than three hours. She called me on the phone pleading. When she refused to open the iron barricade to her house, I got scared; I thought she was going to harm herself. I called her and said I wasn’t going to press charges, that she should come out of the house. Finally, she came out when her husband got back from work. By the time we got to the police station, it was already night time and I was tired. I had been on my feet for hours. The DPO wanted to lock her up for the weekend; but both husband and wife started begging. The husband said he would stand in for her to come in every morning.
Why did you decide to share your story almost a year after it first happened?
People have asked me why I took so long to come out and talk about it, and why I dropped the charges. I had to make a quick decision. My daughter was at home with two nannies that I knew I could no longer work with. I had to go home and sit down with my daughter. That was why I dropped the charges. So I handed her (Bisola) over to the Registrar of Medical Rehabilitation Therapist Board.
What did the board do about the case?
A panel was set up and Bisola said she had suffered from depression and ill health. It was decided that her practicing license be withdrawn for three months. She was to work in two general hospitals without pay and also undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
A few weeks later I was told she had taken permission to travel to the US to seek medical attention. I was told not to worry because she couldn’t practice anywhere in the world without a referral from their office. A few months later, I met with a disability management advocate who watched the CCTV recording. She was the one who informed me that Bisola was actually doing a master’s degree programme.
When I went back to Medical Rehabilitation Therapists Board, I realised they had not been in touch with her since she left for medical treatment. The matter had gone cold. But they said they would get in touch with her. But, after I had waited for almost two months for something to be done, and I didn’t hear from them, I knew I had to go to the press and tell my story because that was the only way we could find her.
How have you been coping since that unfortunate incident?
I withdrew my daughter from school. I took all her Individualised Education Programmes and drew up a new one for her. I asked my friends who had children within her age bracket to give me their children’s curriculum; I drew up a timetable for my daughter and I started home schooling her. I employed an educated lady to work with her. I also employed a school teacher to come in three times a week. Gradually, with love and attention, my daughter blossomed again. I must say, I have a very supportive husband who loves his children dearly. This year, we were encouraged to put her back in school. She goes to school three times a week and she is doing well. I am working on storybooks that teach children about disability and also the importance of showing empathy to children with disability. I pray this becomes a subject that would be taught in schools. People should not demonise disability, it is not a curse; it is a medical condition. Let’s show some love.

6 comments:

  1. Her license should be seized joor

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow! Thanks ma'am for sharing. What a sad story.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow! Thanks ma'am for sharing. What a sad story.

    ReplyDelete
  4. *sobs*
    That health worker (Bisola) is nothing but a witch.
    I can't even imagine the pain these parents went thru.

    ReplyDelete

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