What my sickness taught me — Zack Orji

27th April 2024

Zack-Orji

Zack-Orji

Actor, Zack Orji, who recently underwent two brain surgeries, talks to NAOMI CHIMA about his experience fighting for his life, and other issues

Can you walk us through the events leading to your collapse in the bathroom and your journey to recovery since then?

I passed out in the bathroom and my friend, Ahmed Bala, in whose house it happened, was in the United Kingdom at the time. He got a call from his neighbours telling him that they had been knocking on his door, but there was no answer. So, he had to call another actor, Benedict Johnson, to come to the house and find out what the problem was. Benedict then came to the house, walked up to the room and saw me on the floor. He raised me, but I slumped again, so he had to call another colleague, Emmanuel Ehumadu, aka Labista. Both of them then lifted me from the second floor to the ground floor, and took me to the National Hospital in Abuja. They notified my friend immediately about what had happened. By that time, I had been unconscious for about five and a half hours. You can see that it was God who kept me alive till help came. That was how my journey through this discomfiture started.

Before you slumped, did you feel any symptoms that you probably did not pay attention to?

I really did not feel anything. But, something happened on December 25, 2023. Benedict Johnson, Labista and I had gone to visit the Minister of Women’s Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, and all of a sudden, I lost my balance. I actually did not know how it happened. It was Benedict and Labista that told me later that if they had not been by my side, I would have fallen backwards. They were the ones who supported me. I would say that was a sign of what happened later on. They notified the Minister immediately, and she called my wife, who flew in from Lagos the next day, to be with me at the National Hospital.

When did you undergo the brain surgery?

It happened on December 29, 2023, and that was when I was admitted to the hospital. The first surgery took place on New Year’s Day. Before that time, people had visited me, and I was speaking with them. But, I was not conscious of who I was speaking with. It was later on that my wife told about the people that came. I can assure you it was a harrowing experience.

How was your work-life balance before that experience?

Due to the nature of our work, we sometimes work at odd hours. Sometimes, because we want to beat a deadline, we would stay at locations for a long period. I believe I was not getting enough sleep and rest, because I had been very busy.

I had been filming, not only in Nigeria, but even outside the country.

Your surgeries were done in Nigeria. Some people would have preferred to be flown abroad for such a delicate operation. Why did you decide to have it in the country?

The surgeries were conducted at the Brain and Spine Consortium, run by Dr Biodun Ogungbo. He is a neurosurgeon who trained and practised abroad, and decided to return to Nigeria.

The Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, actually sent his medical team to visit me the National Hospital, and a doctor there recommended that I should be taken to the Brain and Spine Consortium. My immediate younger brother and his wife, who is also surgeon in Atlanta, United States of America, also recommended the same doctor. Eventually, he (Dr Ogungbo) visited me at the National Hospital and carried out some tests. I was not conscious then and did not even know he had come. Dr Ogungbo told my wife that the surgery had to be performed that same day; otherwise things could get out of hand. So, he went back to his hospital and sent an ambulance to pick me up immediately.

To be honest, the quality of care I received at the Dr Ogungbo’s hospital was top-notch. He is, indeed, a doctor of international repute.

I also thank my personal doctor, Dr Simeone.

How would you describe your experience after the surgeries?

After the first surgery, which I thought was the only one I would undergo, I was very conscious of my surroundings. I asked my wife what day it was, and she said it was New Year’s Day. I then started wishing everybody there ‘Happy New Year’. I still stayed in the hospital for some time, because of the stitches. Even when I left the hospital, I kept going back for check-ups. Eventually, I had about seven scans. A month after the surgery, I did the last scan, and they discovered that there was still some residue of blood clots in my brain. However, I felt very okay. The doctor went through the scan with me, and he pointed out where the blood clot was.

I then had to undergo a second surgery, during which they scooped out the residue of blood clots. Indeed, God has been so merciful to me. After the second surgery, I took some time before going back for the removal of the stitches and bandages. Thereafter, it was recommended that I should go to the London Independent Hospital, United Kingdom, for a post-surgery assessment.

It so happened that the doctor there, who is a Caucasian, knows Dr Ogungbo, because they had practised together in the UK. He went through all the scans I had done, and recommended some tests. They took about four different blood samples and did some additional tests.

You mentioned experiencing memory loss before the surgeries. How has your memory and cognitive function improved since then?

After the first surgery, my memory returned completely. I remember everything.

At a time, you were rumoured to have died. How did you and your family members feel about such negative reports?

That was actually the second time such a rumour had circulated about me. Something like that has also happened to my senior colleague, Pete Edochie. I don’t know who originates such lies. I don’t know whether it’s to grow their social media platforms. I don’t understand why people would just get up and start circulating such false news. My wife and I actually felt bad about it. I started getting calls from all over the world. I always say that it is great our lives are not in the hands of man. Our lives are with God. If it depended on man, people would just be dying anyhow.

The president of the Actors Guild of Nigeria president debunked the false news. On the day I was travelling, some videos were recorded at the airport. By the time I was travelling to the UK, I had done a video with some friends. So, people knew the rumours were not true.

Your health journey has been a topic of public interest. How has the outpour of support from fans and colleagues impacted you?

I am grateful to God, and for the people He used to help me. I appreciate President Bola Tinubu, his wife, Remi; his son, Seyi; the Vice President’s wife, Nana Shettima; the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, who paid for the surgery.

I also thank the Minister of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy, Hannatu Musawa; Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye; Minister of Works, Dave Umahi; Benedict Johnson, Emma Labista, and many other people.

I am grateful to the people who were praying for me, and those who visited me.

How do you intend to prioritising your health and well-being going forward?

I will be taking periods of rest from time to time. I will have specific working hours, and many things will change.

What lessons did you learn from that experience?

I learnt that there are still people who are willing to help other people when they are in need. It made me to believe more in humanity.

I have also learnt to change my lifestyle, live healthy, and not hesitate to be of assistance to people when I can. It also taught me to have some faith in our healthcare system.

I will also be cancelling work when necessary to take care of myself.

Quite a number of Nollywood practitioners have died this year already. As a past chairman of AGN, how best do you think the industry can better take care of the welfare of actors?

How do you intend to prioritising your health and well-being going forward?

I will be taking periods of rest from time to time. I will have specific working hours, and many things will change.

What lessons did you learn from that experience?

I learnt that there are still people who are willing to help other people when they are in need. It made me to believe more in humanity.

I have also learnt to change my lifestyle, live healthy, and not hesitate to be of assistance to people when I can. It also taught me to have some faith in our healthcare system.

I will also be cancelling work when necessary to take care of myself.

Quite a number of Nollywood practitioners have died this year already. As a past chairman of AGN, how best do you think the industry can better take care of the welfare of actors?

My wife’s support has been awesome. From the moment they called her, she was in Abuja the next day. From that time till when I travelled abroad, she was with me. Her support gave me the necessary balance psychologically, emotionally, amd physically. She is a gem. I have only words of appreciation and commendation for my wife, for all the things she has done to support me.

SOURCE:PUNCH

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