Teddy Abbo, a resident of Tororo district, is one of thousands of Ugandans living with sickle cell disease.
Abbo’s story of success in pain shows us how strong and determined she was throughout her studies to get her bachelor’s degree.
She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from Busitema University, Tororo Branch last week on Friday.
“My parents could afford another university, or even a better one, but since I am very sick, they always wanted me to be in a school near my home for easy access to care,” says Abbo.
Growing up, Abbo wanted to be a lawyer but she says due to her poor health, her dream did not materialize as the Ugandan universities that offer the course were far from her home. This distance could have given her a hard time in case she fell ill.
“I had dreams of pursuing a law degree at Makerere University, but the school is far from my home and it would have been difficult for me to access medical care as I fall ill several times a month,” says -she.
However, she adds that she is still grateful that she was able to take a good course and finish it with good grades, and says she is ready to undertake a master’s degree in the same course and at the same university because of the distance.
It’s now 23 years since Abbo was diagnosed with sickle cell disease and she says doctors found out when she was eight months old. However, when she started school, “I spent a few days in school, I got sick for a few weeks or even months, but I went back to school, I took exams and finished first in my class.
Abbo credits her success to loving parents who understand her situation and advise her to study at schools near her home.
“I always wanted to go to the ‘big schools’ so I could explore life there too, but I knew I wouldn’t make it. My parents talked to me about studying in schools near my home and made it clear to me that being in any available school near my home was okay if I just focused on my studies,” recalls -she.
She adds, “I took their advice and here I am, I finished my degree. It wasn’t easy though because I attended college lectures about 10 times a semester. I didn’t have to catch up and I’m grateful to my classmates, friends and lecturers who were really there for me.
“I constantly communicated with my teachers and friends to make them understand my condition. I was so sick I missed so much, but my friends made sure to send me notes and homework.
Abbo says there are schools that don’t allow students who have chronic illnesses or who get sick multiple times in a term.
“In O-Level, I was kicked out of a certain school (name omitted), because I was sick. Even though I didn’t attend classes and still did well because God’s grace helped me was guarding, they still kicked me out because I was sick,” says Abbo.
“Their rules were if you got sick a certain number of times you were kicked out. So it was one of the hardest times I faced at school as someone living with sickle cell disease,” she adds.
Abbo says that even with the disease, she never gave up because she believed that if she was alive and had a brain, she would fulfill her dream of education.
“Even when I couldn’t walk because of the pain, even if it meant being carried into the exam room so I wouldn’t be left out, I still showed up to take exams at school,” she says.
She remembers that during her Senior Six final exams, she was so sick she couldn’t walk.
“I had severe pain that I couldn’t even sit up so I had to do checkups from the infirmary. I was crying from the pain then writing for a few minutes then the pain came back; but I just had to pass my exams because I wanted to finish my studies,” says Abbo of the resilience it took from him.
As a sickle, says Abbo, you need to drink plenty of water, which is important because dehydration is bad for everyone, especially people with sickle cell disease.
“I take my daily medication religiously and pray to God to take care of the rest, because without God’s mercy, I might not be here anymore,” she says.
The 23-year-old says she understands her body and knows exactly when he’s telling her to stop pushing him hard and that’s exactly what she does.
“For example in class, whenever I felt tired, I excused myself from the classroom and went home. Also, when I was still young, I was not allowed to play too much and get tired because people with sickle cell disease are fragile and doing strenuous things could cause a seizure,” says Abbo.
She can’t forget when she was in sixth grade in 2010 and asked to take the primary life exams.
“I excelled and joined the undergraduate in 2011, but, I got sick at the end of the third term and was sick for so long that I couldn’t go back to school in 2012. In 2013 I transferred to another school, interviewed and passed then joined Senior Three but left after a week,” she recalled, adding that she never again could not continue school in 2013. She returned to Senior Three in 2014 and took her UCE in 2015”
Paul Onumu, her father, describes his daughter as hardworking, determined and a go-getter.
“I am so happy that my daughter graduated. Given her poor health, I didn’t think she would go this far, but here she is. God has surely been on our side. Teddy is a bright girl who is always determined and once she wants something she tries so hard to get it,” says Onumu.
Abbo advises people living with sickle cell disease to always be strong because it’s hard, not to stress out because it’s unhealthy, and not to give up on their dreams or education just because they’re sick.
“I know some sickles always give up on life because of poor health and say, let me wait for the day I die. Don’t do this! Do your best, at least do something to be proud of, make sure you take your medicine, be happy and pray,” Abbo said with a smile.
According to the World Health Organization, sickle cell disease is a genetic disease caused by a hemoglobin disorder and the inheritance of hemoglobin mutant genes from both parents. The chronic and debilitating medical condition is caused by a defect in red blood cells.
Department of Health data shows that at least 20,000 babies are born with sickle cells every year.
Currently, the only known treatment for blood disease is bone marrow transplantation.