Gunned down by armed robbers, Chris still had a chance to live. But he didn't.
By Declan Cooley
He was shot at 3pm on October 28, 2017 and by 1am the following morning he died on a stretcher in a dimly lit hall at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital without ever feeling the touch of a surgeon’s blade.
Between 3pm and 7pm he was taken to and rejected by four hospitals until he was finally admitted to the Teaching Hospital.
Friends and family say it wasn’t the gunmen’s bullets that killed the young engineer and soon to be father.
They blame Port Harcourt’s “rotten” and “negligent” healthcare system that either refused or failed to do anything to help save Chris’ life.
Chris’ friend and founder of African Health Development Initiative Dr Boma Oruamabo said “a good pair of hands” was all that was needed to give Chris a fighting chance.
“It’s not like they needed out of this world technology to service him,” Dr Oruamabo said.
“The health sector in Port Harcourt is not where it should be considering the wealth of the state.
“Sometimes (patients) get lucky and sometimes they don’t…this happens everyday and it’s time we put an end to it.”
When Chris was left for dead on Ikwerre Rd Mile 3, a busy street filled with small and big businesses, there were no ambulances rushing to his rescue.
Chris was at the mercy of a gathering crowd who surrounded him as he bled out.
With curiosity getting the better of Kennedy Ajoku, a rawboned and roughly spoken 27-year-old mechanic, he joined the crowd.
“Nobody wanted to help and the taxis were moving (so) I blocked one of the guys and said if you don’t carry this man either you kill me or all of us die here together,” he said.
In pain and with blood oozing from bullet wounds to his chest and stomach, Chris was taken to two nearby hospitals.
Kennedy said both hospitals “rejected” them, telling him to take Chris to the Military Hospital.
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As time started to tick away Chris told the driver to take him to First Rivers Hospital where his workplace had an arrangement to provide healthcare for its employees.
But after weaving through heavy traffic the answer was the same --- the doctor on duty told Kennedy to take Chris to the Military Hospital.
First Rivers Hospital general manager Idowu Akoti denied this, saying the doctor on duty had begun her assessment of Chris and only left the room briefly to phone a specialist to come to the hospital before Chris was whisked away by an “agitated” crowd.
“They became so agitated they took him and went,” he said.
“The policy (at First Rivers) is if we know you or not we are here to save lives.”
But Kennedy said he was the only one with Chris inside the hospital and that the doctor on duty never left the emergency room to phone a specialist.
Four of Chris’ neighbours and the taxi driver were waiting outside the hospital in First Rivers’ car park.
“If (First Rivers) agreed to give us attention Chris would not allow us to take him out because that’s where he said we should take him,” he said.
Although Chris was in a lot of pain, Kennedy said Chris was still able to talk and make his own decisions.
“Even when we were taking him (out) Chris was begging (the doctor) ‘please help me for first aid so the pain can reduce.’ She said they don’t have first aid.”
Chris was taken to the Military Hospital and despite his attempts to shield his heavily pregnant wife Ogo from the seriousness of his injuries, she met Chris in the back of an ambulance at the Military hospital.
Ogo said because the Military Hospital did not have a chest tube to drain the blood from the space surrounding Chris’ lungs the hospital referred Chris to the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital.
“Inside the ambulance I was just praying with him and telling him to be strong…I didn’t want to bother him about the details of what happened,” she said.
‘I didn’t know Nigeria had gotten so bad doctors choose who’s life to save’
“We got to the emergency ward (at 7pm) and they said buy drip, buy blood…moving from one station to another,” she said.
“Even at 9pm we were still buying material and the only thing they had done on Chris was to administer a drip.”
Ogo said at about 12.30am, doctors at the Teaching Hospital told her that Chris had been stabilised and was being transferred to an operating room.
“The ten of us were happy, jumping, praising God and that at least now we had hope that something would be done,” she said.
Exhausted and eight months pregnant Ogo needed rest and left the hospital at 2am thinking she would come back to the hospital later in the morning.
But despite the critical nature of Chris’ injuries and the hours wasted not treating him, he never made it to the operating theatre and by 1am he was dead.
Friends did not find out about Chris’ death until 3am and allegations were made that hospital staff members were pressuring them to pay for the “chest tube (and) oxygen” even though Chris was likely dead at the time.
“I’m convinced (UPTH) didn't do anything because if I calculate back to the time I was in the hospital that means he was dead even before I left,” Ogo said.
“Thinking about the number of hours we wasted in UPTH if they had done something, Chris would not have died.”
A UPTH official refused to comment on what happened to Chris without a court order.
But Dr Oruamabo, who used to work at the hospital, said it was in a serious state of disrepair, with it being “not up to 30% functional”.
“Half the time there isn’t light or water and then doctors who are supposed to be on call are not on ground…they’re either at private practices or at home,” he said.
He said the main issues affecting the quality of healthcare delivery in Port Harcourt, and indeed across Nigeria, stemmed from greed, a lack of dedication to work, decrepit and poorly maintained facilities and the rate at which universities “churned” out young and incompetent doctors.
It’s understood that at the time Chris was at UPTH, the surgical and anesthetic teams were short staffed because of exams. It’s also understood that the obstetric and general surgery theatre suites were in use when Chris needed it most.
“I didn’t know Nigeria had gotten so bad, doctors choose whose life to save,” Ogo said.
“(Chris) was not necessarily killed by the gunshot…just negligence.
“He would have been a very great dad, that’s what I was looking forward to (the most).
“I was looking forward to how he would play that same fatherly role he does with other people’s children,” she said.
*This eyewitness account was written by Declan Cooley who lives and works in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.