Portrait: Leprosy patient


A medical first in Nigeria

Another eye operation? Ajbenjor is not looking forward to it. But if he doesn't do it, he will become blind and not be able to see his granddaughter grow up. She is the only one who comes to visit him in his isolation in the leprosy camp.

Damien Foundation, 25 years in Nigeria - Tuberculosis patients
Ajbenjor thinks he is 70 years old, though he is not sure. But he remembers the exact moment when he discovered he had leprosy. “It was in 1973. I saw the pigment spots on my stomach and hands and noticed that I could no longer feel any pain in my feet. I knew right away what it was.”

Ajbenjor left his native region in the Delta province and went to the ‘leprosy camp’ for treatment. Since then he has never returned to his region, even though he is no longer considered contagious and though his wife still lives at home. He is convinced that the disease will return if he goes home. Ajbenjor believes that he has got the disease because a witch has cursed him.

He also feels at home in the camp. Here he is just like everyone else and he is not stared at because of his deformed hands and feet. And now and then, his granddaughter comes to visit him and help him cook. He eagerly awaits each visit and he lives for these moments.

At the camp, he is in the good hands of renowned surgeon Doctor Amole. Five years ago, his neighbours alerted him to the fact that he was not closing his eyes when sleeping. That is when Doctor Amole decided to operate on him. “If we don't do anything, Ajbenjor's eyes could become inflamed and he could go blind”, says the doctor. Ajbenjor was the first patient on whom the doctor performed this surgery, making him the first man in Nigeria to receive this treatment, because Doctor Amole is the only surgeon in Nigeria capable of performing such operations. “We remove a muscle from the thigh and attach that to the muscle used for biting. So that now Ajbenjor can close his eyes by making a biting movement.”

Ajbenjor believes that the power of Christ has helped him. Although he also has faith in Doctor Amole, who will soon be operating on his second eye. He is not really looking forward to this, but he doesn’t want to go blind. Otherwise he will lose the most precious thing in his life: the chance to watch his granddaughter grow up.

TEKST: Wendy Huyghe
PHOTOS: Tim Dirven @ T.Dirven voor Damiaanactie


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