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How drunk driver cr√shed my leg when I was four — Amputee dentist

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How drunk driver crushed my leg when I was four — Amputee dentist

Dentist and amputee life coach Akintola Sabaa speaks with AJIBADE OMAPE about the life-altering accident that led to the loss of her leg at a young age

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Can you share a bit of your early life and background with us?

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My name is Akintola Sabaa. I was born into a Muslim family, and I am the third of four children in a monogamous family. I was born in Osun State, where I grew up. I attended Federal Government College Ikirun for my senior secondary school. Afterwards, I gained admission to the University of Ibadan, where I studied dentistry. I have now graduated and am working as a dentist in Kano State.

I had my accident when I was four and had to be hospitalised for about a year, thinking the bone was going to align and everything, but eventually, they had to amputate it after one year. They amputated the leg when I was five years old, and they had to wait for it to heal before I started using a prosthesis. My prosthetic journey started when I was six years old. I was homeschooled for a while before I returned to school after the accident. After resumption, I experienced some bullying, so I changed schools.

One way or another, boarding school helped me become who I am because then, there were no parents around, no overprotection, and all of that. I had to find myself, and here I am.

Can you share your journey of becoming a dentist and a life coach for amputees?

I gained admission to university in 2015, but I didn’t start until 2016. I was just a regular student until COVID happened. When COVID-19 occurred, we were all at home, and I sprained my knee and couldn’t walk for about three months.

After spraining my knee, and because my prosthesis was damaged, I couldn’t walk for three months. In the end, I had to organise a crowdfund for a new prosthesis, which was at the end of 2020.

It was when I realised I wanted to share my experience to help others. So, at the end of 2020, I decided to open a YouTube channel.

From 2021 onwards, I continued sharing my experiences on social media. I share my journey, what to expect as a new amputee, how things are done, etc. I’ve received requests and questions from different people in various countries. And here I am today, still sharing my experience.

What inspired you to pursue a career in dentistry?

After my amputation, we had to do a lot of home care because of the wound and all that. So, I learned about medical things from a very young age. But I also wanted an easy life. I knew dentistry would provide good money with minimal work, so I decided to study it.

Although I always knew I wanted to be in the medical field, by the end of my secondary school education, I decided to go into dentistry. What made dentistry stand out for me was, as I mentioned, less work with more money. I wanted an easy life.

I knew my prosthesis was expensive, and if I wanted to maintain a good prosthesis, I needed to earn good money. So, money was the motivation.

Could you share the circumstances surrounding the loss of one of your limbs and how you coped and adapted to this transformative experience?

The accident happened in 2002, just a few weeks after my fourth birthday. I was in front of my mum’s shop when a drunk driver swerved off the main road and crashed into me, pinning me to a pole. I saw the car, but I did not react in time because cars passed all the time, and I did not expect this one to come towards me.

I thought it was just going to pass, but by the time I reacted and attempted to run, one leg was in front and the other behind. The car crushed one of my legs against a pole, shattering the bone, while the other leg sustained only minor bruises.

I was rushed to a private hospital, and then to another hospital in Ilesha, because we were living in Ikirun. My dad was a nurse, now retired. I was taken to another government hospital, then another in Ilesha, before ending up at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, Oyo State. There, I was put on an external fixator for a while to allow the bone to regrow because I was still a child.

The bones eventually grew back, but the blood vessels and lymphatic system were damaged. When I walk a short distance, my leg swells because of the blood flow. I have to elevate the leg to allow the blood to flow back and the swelling to reduce.

Eventually, the doctors advised my parents that the leg could get infected, or I could develop bone cancer. They recommended amputating the leg to improve my quality of life, allowing me to move around well and not be confined to one position for too long. So, the leg was amputated.

I had some nightmares for a while but I was fine overall. After the amputation, I used crutches for a while and attended school with them. Before returning to school, I was homeschooled by my mum, who used to be a teacher but is now a trader. Later, I started using a prosthesis around 2004, two years after the accident.

Before fully transitioning to a prosthesis, I had to undergo multiple surgeries because, as I grew, my bones would protrude through the skin at the amputation site. These revision surgeries continued until 2009. Sometimes, I had to write my exams at home or miss school for extended periods while recovering from surgery. After 2009, I no longer needed revision surgeries but had to keep changing my prosthesis as I grew taller. This was very expensive.

At times, we adjusted my shoe to match the height of the prosthesis by adding material to the sole, which was a cheaper alternative to frequently changing the prosthesis. Sometimes, the prosthesis was longer, so we raised the shoe on my other leg. As I grew, I adapted to the height of the prosthesis.

Adjusting my shoe and prosthesis was a constant task. Sometimes my actual foot would be larger than the prosthetic foot, or vice versa, requiring frequent visits to the shoemaker. This was how we managed to keep going despite the challenges.

Would you say your experience as an amputee influenced your decision to become a life coach?

Of course, I have had many experiences as an amputee. I have experienced life as a child, a teenager, a schoolgirl, and a university student.

I know that many new amputees are emerging, and they don’t know what to do, what to expect, or how life will turn out for them. It can be quite lonely, not knowing what to expect and not having anyone around who is going through the same thing. So, I decided to be the change I wanted to see. That is why I decided to start life coaching for amputees.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during your recovery and adjustment to life as an amputee?

One of the major challenges is pain. You know, there are two bones in the leg: the tibia and the fibula. The fibula is smaller than the tibia. If it is the tibia that is cut, it’s more painful than the fibula.

 

These bones sometimes grow out of the skin. Once they do, I can’t use the prosthesis because the stump will touch the bottom of the prosthesis. So, when the bone is outside, I can’t walk until it is cut and heals back. That’s one of the major challenges, the pain. Another challenge is the recovery time. It takes a while for me to recover.

As a result, I miss a lot of time at school, and sometimes I write my exams at home. From a very young age, I have known I could not depend on anybody for exams, so I read and pass the exams myself — there’s no copying because I knew I would write the exams alone. Another issue is not being able to move around.

Whenever the bone starts growing out or I have to go for surgery, I can’t move around, play, or go from place to place. I have to go back to using crutches, and I hate crutches. I don’t like using crutches. They’re painful for me. They make my hands hurt, my shoulders ache, and my back muscles bigger. I do not like them.

To be honest with you, the fact that I had the accident when I was very young is a bit of a blessing because I can’t say I fully understand what it means to have two legs, as I wasn’t fully conscious then. So, I never really knew what it meant to have two legs. It’s almost as if all I know is prostheses and crutches.

So, it wasn’t much of an adjustment for me because all I know is prostheses all my life. If I don’t have a prosthesis, I’m using crutches; if I don’t have crutches and prostheses, I’m using one and a half legs. There’s not much of an adjustment.

I only feel somehow when I’m having issues with my prostheses. Maybe it’s already getting worn out or my stump has bruises or something else. That’s the only time I feel like I’m not fine. But apart from that, there’s not much adjustment to talk about.

How do you balance your professional roles as a dentist and life coach?

They don’t affect each other. As a dentist, we work from eight am to four pm, or a maximum of five pm. There is rarely an emergency unless I am in surgery. I have the opportunity to compartmentalise my life, so I make time for the things I want to do. One role does not affect the other.

Can you share a particularly memorable moment or success story from your work as a life coach for amputees?

Certainly. Without focusing on a particular client, I often encounter people who are unhappy with how they walk or are experiencing bruises from their prostheses. Given my extensive experience with various prostheses, I can usually identify the problem and suggest solutions.

For instance, I might advise them to try a different adjustment or technique. When they return and tell me that my advice worked, and they can now walk more comfortably or avoid bruises, it’s incredibly rewarding. It reminds me that going through tough times can help you to be a blessing to others. Because I had to figure out different solutions during my challenges, I can now help others navigate similar situations. Seeing them happy makes all the effort worthwhile.

What strategies do you use to motivate and inspire others facing similar challenges?

I simply share what I’ve been through and how I overcame it. Often, people already know what they need to do; they just need to see someone who has done something similar and realise that it’s possible.

For example, some people think that because their leg has been amputated, they can’t achieve much in life. I tell them that’s not true because I’m a fully qualified doctor. It hasn’t stopped me. Others worry about finding a suitable partner. I used a prosthesis, found the love of my life, and got married. In fact, I have been married for six months now.

I simply share my experiences, and from there, they get inspired. If I can do it, they can do it too.

How has your experience as an amputee shaped your approach to patient care in your dental practice?

Well, it makes me a bit more empathetic. When I see people in pain and they’re trying to explain what they’re going through, the person they’re explaining it to may not understand if they haven’t experienced something similar. But because I’ve been in their shoes and know how it feels to go through something hard to explain, I can relate to their situation.

This experience makes me more empathetic towards my patients. I can offer a listening ear, which helps them feel more comfortable with the treatments offered. Being heard and understood makes a significant difference in their experience.

What message do you have for individuals struggling to overcome physical and emotional obstacles?

I would say, take the time to process what you’re going through. Process the physical pain. Process the emotional pain. But after that period of self-pity, you have to get to work, because nobody is coming to save you. You have to save yourself, and this is your body. You have no other body. You can’t exchange your body. You’re going to be in this body until you die, so you might as well get used to it and make the best of it.

Nobody is coming to save you. Nobody is coming to make things better for you until you decide to change the situation and start working towards that. People will not treat you better than you treat yourself. You have to be kind to yourself. You have to respect yourself. That is my advice. Take care of yourself, and others will love you.

Were there any support systems that have been instrumental in your journey?

I had no support group except my parents. I had nobody. Growing up, I could only rely on my parents. They would encourage me, advise me, and give me room to make mistakes, although I’m stubborn and didn’t see why they tried to overprotect me. However, I know they meant well. So, my parents, along with my teachers, were empathetic, but they didn’t fully understand what was going on.

While in my boarding house, my roommates and hostel mates were also empathetic. Sometimes they helped me fetch water, but there was no structured group of people, as you described to help me when I was growing up. I had to figure a lot of things out by myself, and I feel that made me stronger and more experienced in helping other people who have been through the same thing.

How did you cope with bullying during your school years?

That was when I was in primary one and primary two. I had someone in my class who bullied me because I couldn’t move around very well. I was using crutches, so I stayed in class from morning to closing time. Whenever the class became noisy and the teacher entered to punish students, I would be asked to sit down, which led to me being bullied for not being punished. This went on for a while until I changed schools, which stopped the bullying. I had to change schools to put an end to the bullying.

What are your aspirations, both professionally and personally, as you continue to inspire and support others?

In the next five years give or take, I aim to have my dental clinic and become an aesthetic dentist. Achieving this will make me happy.

 

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