Like a prey set loose from the jaws of a predator, Funmilola Oniyelu’s joy knew no bounds as she sang and wailed excitedly. For almost two minutes, her innocuous voice fluctuated across several wavelengths – as if highlighting the different and painful situations that she had been through over the last one year. The unstable nature of the telephone network that Wednesday morning was not enough to break her resolve – Oniyelu magnified the Almighty from the depths of her soul and being.
You cannot blame the 37-year-old for being so elated. A little over a month ago, she was fighting for her life, starring death in the face every passing minute. Between June 22, 2015 when she was rushed to the emergency section of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, for a Caesarean Section to be delivered of her second baby, and few weeks ago when things took a remarkable turn, life dealt the young mother several killer punches, threatening to consume her in the whirlwind that ensued therefrom most often. Apart from losing the baby that was conceived after an eight-year wait, the graduate of Demography and Statistics from the Obafemi Awolowo University was left further deflated after doctors announced that her kidneys had been damaged. It was the last news she had expected to hear – one that crushed her dreams and altered the course of her life in no small measure.
“It was the worst news I wanted to hear. It was demoralising and damaging. The effect it left on me was indescribable. My life, automatically, became different. I was all by myself,” she said.
The days and weeks that followed were particularly tumultuous for the young woman, her husband, Gbenga, and only child, Temiloluwa. First losing her job and subsequently selling off her entire possessions including her wedding ring just to stay alive, Oniyelu’s health grew worse as the days rolled by. Coughing up around N50, 000 on a weekly basis for dialysis left the entire family with nothing but only hope to cling on to. It was one of the lowest moments for the household.
But following the publication of Funmilola’s touching story in Saturday PUNCH of February 27, 2016, things took a remarkable and interesting turn for the OAU graduate. Needing at least N8m to undergo a kidney transplant – her only real chance of surviving the nasty ordeal, Nigerians from all walks of life who read the report bombarded her bank account with different amounts. It was an overwhelming show of support for a woman they had never met before or even knew despite the harsh economic situation in the country. But even with such inspiring level of love and affection, Oniyelu feared she would not conquer the biggest test of her life.
“I never imagined that I could survive the ordeal,” the 37-year-old told our correspondent during an emotional interaction over the telephone earlier in the week from Abuja, the nation’s capital, where she is recuperating following a successful surgery. “Each time the thought of what I passed through and the death lurking around the corner came to my mind, I was always filled with fear,” she continued. “But God proved Himself strong and faithful in my life. It is a miracle that I am alive till this day to share with the world how gracious God has been to me. The pain I went through was unbearable and killing. It was not a palatable experience; in fact I never believed I could come out of it. Even though prophecies came that God was going to see me through, there were times I was convinced I wouldn’t make it as a result of the pains I came up against. The fact that I am alive today is a miracle and testimony to the fact that God is indeed God. I am physically fit and able to walk on my own now.
“I thank Nigerians for their immense support and prayers. I want to thank all fellow former students of the Obafemi Awolowo University for their financial and moral support. Dozens of them called me from different countries of the world after reading about my story in Saturday PUNCH. I appreciate The Apostolic Church Students Fellowship, OAU Chapter, for their tremendous support and prayers. I cannot mention every person by name, everybody stood by me,” she said excitedly.
Though, far better physically and mentally than she was a few weeks back, the transition from the claws of death to the path to full recovery didn’t come easy for Oniyelu even after gathering the required amount for the surgery. The disappointments and heartbreaks that she faced in the days that followed, besides threatening her fragile hopes of survival, also threw fresh challenges along her path.
“The initial plan was for my husband to donate one of his kidneys to me but after tests were conducted, we discovered that we were not compatible,” she revealed. “I was left in shock at that point. Later I thought my siblings would come to my rescue and donate for me. But out of the four of them, only two were certified fit for that purpose. However, along the line, the two of them backed out. They said they couldn’t do it anymore. It was like hot iron piercing through my heart. Even my father who later volunteered to donate his kidney couldn’t do so because of his age. It was a terrible period for me. I was already in Abuja at the time and the doctors from India who were billed to perform the surgery were preparing to travel down. I really felt bad to have been turned down by my own blood, my own siblings. But I committed everything into God’s hands and asked Him to prevail,” she said.
Each passing day presented fresh hurdles for the young mother whose hope of returning back to her family in Lagos grew increasingly thin. Shuttling between Kubwa in Abuja where she was putting up with a relative and the hospital in another part of the city for weekly dialysis was already taking its toll on her failing health and the amount they had managed to gather for the surgery proper. Time was running out. Options were drying out. A miracle was badly needed.
“One month passed after I arrived in Abuja and I hadn’t found a donor,” Oniyelu said. “The decision of my siblings really demoralised and broke me down. But just when I was about giving up, God made a way for me. We found a donor. Even though I felt hurt, I owe no grudge against my siblings because the same blood flows in our veins. I came to realise that perhaps God had a different idea from what we all were looking at,” she said.
Even after finally finding a willing donor, the days and moments leading to the surgery weren’t particularly pleasant for the young mother who at the time had become an old shadow of her once robust and beautiful self. Expectations soon metamorphosed into anxiety and later into fear – it was a dark, forgettable period for the 37-year-old.
“I was constantly in fear, wondering what the next moment would bring for me. I was afraid I wouldn’t scale through. When the Indian doctors who performed the surgery on me first came into the ward, anxiety came all over me. I feared the worst was about to happen. But then through prayers and faith, God saw me through. Eight doctors were flown in from India for the operation which lasted for about three hours.
“The operation was done on a Tuesday, that day I woke up and was feeling very alright against all expectations. I started urinating normally on the same day the surgery was performed. I could see all the urine that was coming out from my bladder into the pipe that was fitted into my private part. It was the first time in close to a year that I would urinate on my own without dialysis. As we speak, I urinate very well and water no longer stays in my bladder or abdomen like in the past.
“God has given me a brand new life. I feel like a newly born child. I have been so relieved and happy since the surgery. To be honest, I doubted if it was going to work because of the situation I was in. I was close to death; only little things mattered to me at that point. It was a terrible situation but God in His infinite mercies brought me out alive.
“This experience has made me know that God really exists. I have been serving God, but now I know that it has never been enough compared to what he has been doing for me. I am closer to God now than at any period in my life.
“I have really learnt so many things. I was looking at option A but God had better ideas, He had limitless options in my case. Many of the people who supported me are people I have never met before. They rallied behind me after reading my story. Only God could have made this possible,” she said.
But while Oniyelu revels in the brand new life God has handed her, more challenges lay in wait in the very near future. Apart from needing another N6m for post-surgery recovery that would span across the next two years, neither the 37-year-old nor her husband has any viable source of income with which to cater for their needs. The OAU graduate lost her senior executive role in a reputable company in Lagos in the course of the sickness while her husband, a businessman, also lost everything as a result, too. Without a source of income to pick bills, the future looks blurry.
“The doctors said I can go back to work after three months. But presently, I am out of job and trusting God to provide me with a new one because I cannot afford to idle away. Before the sickness, I worked with a reputable marketing company for eight years where I rose to become the head of sales operation. Apart from my degree, I have several professional qualifications in marketing.
“I am also soliciting support for my husband as well. He has stood by me from the very moment I met him, he has never abandoned me for one moment. Everything he ever worked for was spent in the course of my sickness. He is left with nothing. He needs to get something to do in order to cater for the family.
“As a result of the sickness, my daughter has been staying with my parents in Lagos ever since. I speak with her on the phone every day. She cries and asks when I am coming back. It got to a stage that whenever she starts to cry, I would also begin to cry because I fear that I would never see and hold her in my arms again. But I thank God for keeping me alive. Now, I am counting the days till I wrap her in my arms,” she said.
Incapacitated and in the firm grip of death only a few weeks ago, Oniyelu’s remarkable transformation has continued to baffle many who knew her and feared the worst was going to happen. But like a cat with nine lives blessed with the magnanimous grace of the Almighty, the once ‘condemned’ woman has remained alive to radiate hope and inspire many. Regardless of the bumpy road ahead, her resolve stays unshaken.
“I know that in the next three to four years or even before then, all that I have lost shall be restored to me in many folds through God’s grace. I have lost so much, not just financially and materially, but emotionally and mentally as well. I trust in God to restore all these in multiple folds in the coming months and years. The Almighty has given me a second chance at life; it is the best gift anyone can ask for. That I am alive today is a miracle,” she said, before bursting into another round of praise as the telephone line faded out.