Sunday Afolabi's memory lives on through work of SCAGO
June 23, 2017
Diagnosed with sickle cell trait while in university, Chief Emmanuel Mbulu committed to helping sickle cell sufferers and organizations that raise awareness about the disease that affects mostly people of colour.
Sickle cell disease is a life threatening and hereditary blood disorder that causes malformation of red blood cells that become distorted when they transmit oxygen through the body.
Devastated by the loss of her Nigerian-based brother Sunday Afolabi to the disease 18 years ago, Lanre Tunji-Ajayi set up the Seed of Life philanthropic organization in June 2005 that morphed into the Sickle Cell Awareness Group of Ontario (SCAGO).
Through Mbulu’s family foundation established in 2004, funds are provided annually to SCAGO to support crucial sickle cell programs and research.
“I believe that the more you give, the more you receive,” said Mbulu who was presented with the Community Award of Excellence at the SCAGO 12th annual awards celebration recently. “This organization has been out there doing the groundwork that’s necessary to move the needle and they deserve every bit of money they could get.”
After his father was brutally murdered in the Biafran War in Nigeria in the late 1960s, Mbulu came to Canada in 1973 as an international student.
He worked at McDonald’s and drove a cab to support himself and pay tuition at York University where he graduated and met his wife of 42 years. The couple has two children.
Mbulu’s foundation also funds educational initiatives and community and infrastructure development in Canada and Nigeria.
On visits to Ghana which is her parents’ birth country, Dr. Ewurabena Simpson witnessed sickle cell sufferers’ pain and agony.
“I have always wanted to help people,” said the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) pediatric hematologist & oncologist who was the recipient of the Medical Award of Excellence.
It’s not surprising that Simpson has an interest in improving the transition of young adults with sickle cell disease from paediatric to adult care.
Graduating with a doctor of medicine in 2005 from McGill University, Simpson pursued her post-graduate training at the University of Toronto and the Hospital for Sick Children. During her sub-speciality training, she completed her Master’s of Public Health as a Global Health Scholar in Health Systems & Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2010.
Since joining the CHEO hematology & oncology division seven years ago, her clinical practice has centred on sickle cell disease.
“To think that I am doing something good for my patients is meaningful and that is what motivates me daily,” said the University of Ottawa assistant professor and Black Physicians Association of Ontario board member.
Doreen Alexander has been a SCAGO member since 2009.
“As a nurse, I see a lot of patients with sickle cell disease,” she said. “I feel that this is a disease that many people misunderstand and there is a constant need for education and advocacy.”
The former SCAGO president and vice-president was presented with the Long Serving Volunteer Award.
“I have not seen another human being as pure in thoughts and deeds as Doreen,” said Tunji-Ajayi. “There is no inordinate pride in this woman who is ready to serve either as the president or the distributor of flyers at community events. She only has one purpose and that is to get things done.”
Migrating from Jamaica at age 14, Alexander completed high school at Victoria Park Collegiate Institute and earned a diploma in nursing from George Brown College and a nursing degree from Ryerson University.
She was a registered nurse at Riverdale Hospital before joining North York General Hospital three decades ago.
Alexander, the wife of Festival Management Committee chief operating officer Chris Alexander, is an infection control practitioner.
McMaster Children’s Hospital joint adult and pediatric hemoglobinopathy clinic nurse Jennifer Wolfenden was recognized with the Nursing Award of Excellence and Fatiha Rochelle – a clinical social worker at the Ottawa Hospital – was honoured with the Allied Health Award of Excellence.
To perpetuate her brother’s legacy, Tunji-Ajayi started a scholarship program to help sickle cell students pursue post-secondary education.
McMaster University nursing student Kindo Owandjinkoi, who was diagnosed with sickle cell when he was 18 months old, was this year’s recipient.
“When I learned about this award, I read Sunday’s biography and what really stood out was that despite his natural brilliance, he was unable to reach his potential because of death,” said Owandjinkoi. “I also learnt that SCAGO encourages awareness and gives out scholarships that allow people like me to achieve my potential. That’s why I feel so honoured.”
Sheridan College freshman Isata Lakoh was the recipient of the Sholape Aribabu memorial bursary.
Aribabu was a Brampton Civic Hospital nurse who died suddenly in 2008 at age 45.