Daniel Imo Emory sent this soul-piercing message the day he turned 41.
“Today is my Birthday.
To talk of Child
I so much Thank God For my Life”.
It is soul-piercing—and here’s why. At 41, Daniel has spent more than half his lifetime bedridden—exactly 20 years this year.
When I first encountered him in 2015, he was 33 years old, but had already spent 12 years in bed.
He was battling an infection under his genitals for nine years without treatment.
The infection came from sore he developed in 2006—a couple of years after an accident that left him bedridden. It prompted this story.
His journey to being bedridden started on October 10, 2003. He was fresh out of secondary school. He took a menial job running supplies for a water packaging business in Onitsha.
On that day, a herd of cattle shared the road with vehicles. Daniel was getting out of the passenger side of a delivery truck when a running bull gored him.
One moment, he was stepping out, and in the next instant, he was on the bull.
“It was running with me [on top of its horns],” he recalls. “People were shouting. It threw me off. Immediately I fell down, I found myself in this condition.”
At least two bones snapped in his neck, some more in his legs and hips, x-rays showed.
Since then, he has been on his back on a mattress—and being moved between hospitals and shelters.
Surgeries and treatments have started and stopped. Back in 2015, a local charity funding them became unable to foot his medical bills and maintain a single-room apart at Karu for him. That was to keep him close to Primus, where he was being treated then.
He was relocated to Dutse-Makaranta to be near a centre where he was to get physiotherapy.
It prompted the second phase of his story. He was also to undergo years of treatment. In addition to the infection on his genitals, pressure sores had eaten deep into his buttocks and sides. Osteoporosis brought on by immobility had made his bones fragile. His knees and joints had stiffened from lack of use. His hospital bill rose to an estimated N7.762 million ($39,000) back then.
The treatment plan
Physiotherapy and rehabilitation was to depend on how well his bones and muscles responded to surgeries that an Indian hospital has proposed for $25,000.
Next, his doctors would look to ensure he got some independence, even in a motorised wheelchair, so he can move and stand.
The plan was to strengthen his trunk and upper limb muscles in physiotherapy lasting up to six months, before they can start rehabilitation to return his mobility.
The plan includes a robotic exoskeleton to help him walk. Daniel was to be in rehab two hours per session, three times a day, six days a week for at least six months to regain mobility at an estimated cost of $20,400.
But his nutrition was a problem.
“For now, because finance is a challenge for him, he doesn’t feed well,” said Emma Udoji, director of Optimal Health, which was to facilitate the treatment.
“From what we understand, sometimes he came here and he has had buns, egg roll, and that’s what he takes.”
For years, Daniel’s wife has revolved around the catheter running into his penis to help him drain urine.
He does not sit; he does not stand.
He keeps in touch with the world. “I have my phone, I stay on social media, I chat with friends. There are some, I don’t know if they’ve forgotten me, but at times, if I have enough credit, I do call to remind them.”
By 2018, he was going on 15 years in bed. The treatment cost of N7.7 million he couldn’t afford in 2015 had grown to more than N16 million by 2018.
The Indians were coming. Public-private partnerships were a thing. Medical tourism was licking through the country. But none benefited Daniel.
One report captured the dynamics of medical travel in the face of fluctuating forex – with the dollar rising and the naira falling.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has already been abroad twice for medical check-up; a signal people still travel for medical reasons. Emory cannot.”
Scarce treatment. Immobility, Stuck to a catheter. Dependent on a carer to move him in a wheelchair, otherwise confined to a bed. That’s the picture of daily life for Daniel for years.
Fast forward to 2020. And then came the almost global lockdown prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Businesses boarded up; movement shut down.
Forget treatment. “My major news now is feeding, not medical treatment. At least, even once a day, I am okay. Because no help of support coming to me anymore.”
The story “I just want food, treatment can wait” practically wrote itself.
His bank details [Daniel Emori, UBA, 2072008766] have been broadcast on television and across social media seeking help for him.
As days of lockdown ran into weeks and months, the large hearts of Nigerians who read his story sustained him throughout the period. Credit alerts trickled in, and he gave notices of his finances.
At 6:58am on April 30, 2020—a typical lockdown morning—he texted, “Good morning. As at 10:48pm yesterday, I got N215,500.”
What would he do with it other than feed?
“I decided to make a step in respect of those my pressure sores, most especially that of the penis,” he said.
“I booked an appointment with Dr Ruzu of Brekete Family [the next day] by 10 to medically examine me and provide some remedy.”
He would get some medication. He was to get back with updates. Lockdown was lifted and the country returned to normal. But for Daniel, nothing much has changed. Even in 2022, till 2023.
Carers and neighbours who sustained him were labourers and had to return to their farms. They were low on finances. He was rock bottom.
That was in 2022 when I could actively tell his story. That was also the year when I left active journalism, unable to tell his story. Now in 2023, I see Daniel’s message. He is alive but not thriving.
“Today is my Birthday. At 41, no wife, let alone a child. But I so much thank God for my life,” he says.
His courage is long, his hope is eternal, and his faith is deafening in its silence. He is a human who makes you feel gratitude for every moment you spend in good health—heck, even in ill health.
That’s saying a lot for a country where health care is spotty, inadequate and expensive.
Every day, he inspires gratitude for being alive and hope for betterment. He does it from the ignominy of his sick bed, covered in pressure sores from laying on his back or sides 24/7, nearly paralysed, his bones and joints going brittle. He watches his life go by, his dreams fade. He can’t hope for the dreams of many young men—friends, girlfriends, dates, lovers, relationships, wife, children, the world. His life stopped when he finished secondary school. His teenage years stay frozen in his memory. His 20s have slipped by him, his 30s have sidestepped him. Now he is in his 40s.
He inspires thought from his sick bed. This year, he turns 41. He continues to live.