Remembering Nigerian Canadian Nelson Achonu, who helped these with sickle cell anemia in his homeland

A laboratory technician who got here to Canada to hunt a greater life, Nelson Achonu returned house to Nigeria within the ’70s to help these stricken with a specific sickness.

There’s a disproportionate threat of sickle cell anemia – an inherited dysfunction affecting the form of the crimson blood cells that carry oxygen inside the physique – in populations of African descent. “In these days, there wasn’t a lot therapy and lots of the youngsters with sickle cell anemia in Nigeria died earlier than reaching maturity,” says Nelson’s daughter, Denise Achonu. At his medical lab in Aba, Nelson specialised in diagnosing and serving to these with sickle cell, educating the inhabitants and offering free checks.

Born in Umuahia, Nigeria to Achonu Okparaocha, a produce purchaser, and his spouse Berniece, the proprietor of a comfort retailer, Nelson Nwosu Okparaocha had 5 brothers – Isaac, Bennett, Uzoma, Uju and Amobi – and a sister, Florence.

He attended St. Stephen’s Faculty in Umuahia and Township Faculty in Port Harcourt, gaining admission into the Methodist Secondary Faculty in Uzuakoli, Abia State, in 1956. “He wouldn’t have been in a position to attend these prestigious faculties with out the sacrifice and monetary assist of his older brother, Isaac,” says Denise, as the youngsters’s father had died after they have been younger. (The siblings later modified their surnames to Achonu to honour their father.) Following Nelson’s highschool commencement, he entered the civil service, working as a produce inspector beneath the Ministry of Agriculture in Port Harcourt.

Whereas Nelson had many pals and an lively social life, a cousin who moved to the US impressed him to see what else the world needed to supply.

Accepted to school in Canada, Nelson left Nigeria in 1968 within the firm of two cousins, first stopping in London, England. Whereas there, destiny stepped in: he noticed a newspaper commercial for a paid microbiology internship on the Resort Dieu Hospital in Kingston, Ontario and altered his path, transferring there alone.

Shortly after his arrival in Canada, he met nursing scholar Carolyn James at a tennis court docket. Emboldened, he invited her to play the following day. To the dismay of each their households, they married in 1970 in Lansing, Michigan, the place Nelson was finding out microbiology. “Interracial marriages weren’t that widespread or accepted on the time,” says Denise, however “my dad was not one to succumb to anybody’s edict. Identical to his resolution to maneuver to Canada, to marry my mother, he was going to do what he needed to do.”

It was troublesome for Carolyn, a registered nurse, to seek out work within the U.S., so that they returned to Canada, the place Nelson earned his microbiology diploma at Wilfrid Laurier College.

By then a twin citizen of Nigeria and Canada, Nelson labored as a laboratory technologist within the division of veterinary microbiology on the College of Guelph, after which within the division of medical microbiology at MDS Laboratories Ltd. in Mississauga in 1975.

With the Nigerian Civil Battle having resulted in 1970, the household moved to Nelson’s homeland in 1977 so their daughters, Denise, Camille and Jacqueline, might develop up immersed of their father’s tradition. Recruited as a scientific officer with the Authorities of Nigeria, Nelson was posted to the Ministry of Well being in Lagos, however quickly resigned to arrange his personal diagnostic lab and blood financial institution in Aba, Imo State, specializing in sickle cell anemia.

“These with sickle cell,” says Denise, “might get blood transfusions when wanted to assist alleviate their signs,” which embody ache, an infection and swelling of arms and ft. Seeing a excessive variety of circumstances, Nelson additionally inspired blood checks earlier than marriage (for a child to be born with sickle cell anemia, each mother and father should carry the gene).

An financial downtown within the late ’80s introduced the household again to Mississauga. On account of issues from kidney illness identified in 1993, adopted by a transplant two years later, Nelson needed to retire sooner than he would have appreciated, says daughter Carolyn Achonu. Via his private fundraising group (Staff Nelly), Nelson grew to become a passionate supporter of the Kidney Basis of Canada, frolicked together with his seven grandchildren and travelled. Although he thought-about Canada house, he by no means misplaced his love for his homeland or its individuals.

His youngsters keep in mind him as extraordinarily gregarious and outgoing. “Typically after we would go to a brand new metropolis, he would open up the telephone ebook and name up those that had Nigerian names, and more often than not they’d find yourself inviting him over,” says Carolyn. “He made pals of all ages in all places he went.” Figuring out what it was prefer to be alone in a brand new nation, he additionally helped many newcomers settle in Canada, and shared what he might, she provides.

“He didn’t suppose twice about serving to individuals.”


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are topic to the Code of Conduct. The Star doesn’t endorse these opinions.


Leave a Reply