Each and every African at home and in diaspora has a unique story. Many have been through experiences can only be described as miracles. Tragedy and strife converted through faith and perseverance. So in July 2012, BellaNaija embarked on a mission! Our mission was to share OUR Stories and OUR Miracles. The response we received has been overwhelmingly positive and BN Our Stories, Our Miracles is now an ongoing feature on BellaNaija in 2013.
Mothers are unique gems and a mother’s love is such a powerful force. It is one that a lot of women feel when their babies are placed in their arms for the very first time. It is one that never wavers, through thick and thin. A mother’s love oozes right through Crystal Chigbu. Told by the doctors that there was a deformation in her daughter’s right limb, Crystal and her husband Zubi struggled with the challenges of having to make the difficult decision of amputation. However, one thing sets Crystal apart, her desire to help others in her shoes. After the amputation, with the support of her loving husband, she decided to take her work outside of her home. She started The IREDE Foundation with the aim of helping children without limbs have meaningful lives. We were totally inspired by her story and we hope you are too.
My name is Crystal Chigbu and I have two lovely children – Beulah and Eden. I come from a family of ten children and I am the last child. I studied Biochemistry at the University of Lagos and I currently work as a Manager at one of the top FMCG companies in Nigeria. I love meeting people, listening to people’s challenges and proffering solutions as much as I can.
Beulah is a charming little girl who is assertive and determined. She was born in Enugu Nigeria on the 20th of May 2009. Even though she is just 3 years old, she has a contagious ‘can-do’ spirit that can make the hopeless want to live life afresh.
She was diagnosed with Tibial hemimelia of the right leg; which is a congenital absence of the tibia and in her case absence of the patella (Knee Cap) too.
In simple English, this is basically the absence of the knee cap and the big bone between the knee and ankle. It could have been detected during pregnancy but in her case it was not detected until we gave birth to her.
How I Felt
Initially when I got to know about it, I thought my whole world was going to collapse. I asked all sorts of rhetoric questions. Why me? Why us? Why would God be so unfair to give me a problem such as this? The fact that we were told we had to amputate did not help matters. How was I supposed to manage a “disabled” child? I am usually a very strong and faith-filled person; having gone through my fair share of life’s trials and overcoming. But sincerely at that point, I was confused, I felt dejected and forgotten about and I believed I would not be able to manage the situation. However for every time I breastfed her, I fell more and more in love with this little angel of mine and I became determined to do all it would take to get her to live a fulfilled life.
Getting a Prosthetic Leg
After going back and forth on the decision to amputate we decided to. For starters, taking the decision to amputate was extremely difficult! We actually ‘missed’ scheduled surgeries but we finally went ahead to amputate the limb when she was 2 years and 3 months old. Once the area was healed completely (about 2 months post-surgery) she got a prosthetic limb. Interestingly at that time, she was the youngest amputee at the National Orthopaedic Hospital Enugu; so we were favoured and getting the initial prosthesis was not that difficult.
Peaks & Valleys
The most challenging times were before her amputation. We had to carry her everywhere. She could not be independent and it restricted where we could go. My husband and I had to work our program around hers.
I will never forget the day she came back from school as a 2 year old and asked why other children in her class could walk and she was still crawling. That day, I cried my eyes out and wished I could make the bone grow out immediately.
By His grace, we have had lots of good times. I remember the day she swam for the first time…I still cried but this time out of joy and gratitude to God. Perhaps the most memorable was seeing her standing in her school uniform! There are also other days like the first time she showed her Dad her ballet poise, stood to sing a carol in school and so many others.
Our son, Eden is 20 months. Beulah is super-protective of him. He actually thinks the prosthesis is a toy and one of the words he can say is prosthesis. I also have 3 adopted daughters aged 16, 14 and 13. They love Beulah so much and don’t see any form of disability in her. She gets her fair share of discipline as the older girls would spank her if she does anything wrong.
Emotional Support & Staying Strong
Thank God for family! My husband, Zubi, has been my rock…in short, he has been our rock! He taught our daughter most of the things she knows today. From when she was as little as 3 months old, he would take time to talk to her and tell her of how beautiful she is, assuring her that all was going to be well with her. I also owe a lot to my mum who stayed with me for almost 9 months after I had Beulah. I sincerely cannot imagine how I would have coped without her being there.
Little wonder one of Beulah’s best friends is her Grandma Efusanya. I drew strength from God and the promises of Scripture. My husband was also solidly present for me. His reassurances my confidence and lifted the weight. My friends (Ifeoma Obi , Kemi Nwajei, Sylvia Chima and Iphie Adizue) were also of great support; Ify’s girls did not want to lose sight of their “baby sister.” Most of all my husband and I held to the promise that God will take care of Beulah. I also surrounded myself with inspirational songs especially from Juanita Bynum and Cece Winans. Succinctly, I set my mind on the assurance of God’s Love and the knowledge that He was and still is concerned.
The IREDE Foundation
After Beulah’s amputation, I started writing about our experiences to motivate other mothers to children with limb loss. With time, I began to receive calls from doctors to counsel parents and share my story… it was then I knew it was time to launch out and we incorporated The IREDE Foundation. By God’s grace, over the last three years, I have grown from a confused first-time mom to a pillar for my daughter; challenging her to believe in herself, engage in all activities her peers engage in and live her life to the fullest. I believe that the worst kind of disability is in the mind; and this is what I wish to share with all kids with limb loss, their families and care-givers. At The IREDE Foundation, we stand for hope, joy and a purposeful life to child amputees. As such, we are focused on 3 things:
a. Educating care-givers and the society on congenital limb loss; and how to relate and care for children with this kind of loss.
b. Encouraging children and affected families to forge ahead despite the challenges of limb loss via the establishment of Support groups.
c. Empowering child amputees to live their life to the fullest; via mentoring/coaching sessions and the provision of prosthetic limbs to indigent children between the ages of 1 -10 years.
Presently, we have 1 permanent staff and welcome volunteers.
The Road Traveled Thus Far
God has indeed been faithful and since inception in September 2012, we have given 3 indigent children prosthetic limbs; and we are working on 2 more children this quarter. Our first beneficiary was a 3 year old girl –Kelechi- who lost both legs after a brief illness before she ever walked. Her parents were at a loss on what to do and she was not enrolled in school. Today, Kelechi not only stands, she walks, runs, dances and is now in school.
Our second beneficiary – Chidiebere is a 9 year old boy, who lost over 80% of his right leg due to gangrene resulting from a mismanaged fracture. Today, Chidiebere has a prosthetic leg and can now live an independent life.
The Foundation in 5 Years
Our first goal is to drive awareness on the challenges facing child amputees and how to care for them. As such, on Saturday, the 6th of April this year, we will be having the ‘OUT ON A LIMB’ Awareness walk in Lagos. Our desire is to have 500-1000 people at this awareness walk; thus we encourage anyone interested in giving hope, joy and meaning to child amputees to join us. More details on how to do so are available at www.theiredefoundation.org. In 5 years, we would like to have given 250 prosthetic limbs to child amputees; and in 10 years, we would like to prepare child amputees for the Olympics!
Walk in My Shoes? Stay Strong
Keep the dream of a beautiful future for your child in front of you always! Teach your child that there is nothing special or limiting in his/her disability….and treat him/her as such. I and the whole family treat Beulah like every other child…do you know that even with her prosthesis, she kneels to greet her grandma The ability to overcome is all in the mind; and we at The IREDE Foundation are always here to support and encourage you when you feel down or need a shoulder to cry on.
Photo Credit: fotolighthouse. Styling for the photo shoot by ImageCliniq
For more information about the IREDE Foundation and a chance to be part of the great work the foundation is doing, click to please visit - www.theiredefoundation.org