A Medical Doctor’s Dyslexia Journey and Healthcare Solutions in Nigeria

by Dr. Daniel Afolayan.

Daniel, you are weird! I am used to being described this way. Though I protest each time I am called weird, but I knew I struggled with weaknesses not many people had. Even all through Medical School, this struggle followed me. I never had a complete note through school, I just couldn’t bring myself to write for long in classes.

I had the passion to read, but many times I stare at my books and nothing, my brain absorbs nothing. I was really clumsy and really bad at all sports except running. I exhibited some really bad social habits: I remember a day after school in primary one, I ate porridge with my bare hands publicly, of course, I had a spoon in my bag. I hated combing my hair.

I was quite restless and always slept in class when I had to sit quietly. I can go on and on. I decided not to list even more embarrassing ones. It was only later in life that I became aware that my weirdness was actually a disorder- dyslexia.

Of course, growing up, I struggled in my academics. I had a teacher tell my mother that it would be difficult for me to do well academically – thank God, she did not accept it. She would come to school and copy my notes for me. I repeated primary one and my best performance subsequently was mediocre. Meanwhile, my elder brother always packed the prizes in school. I never bothered, as I saw his success as a family success of which I was part.

But one day in primary four, I was the only one in maths class that could solve a problem. I felt I actually had something in me. It was magical. Then in primary five, we did a mock exam to select those who would represent the school for Gifted School Academy Exam.

I scored the highest, but my teachers would not trust me, and thus I was not selected for the exam. It seemed my limitations overshadowed my abilities. That planted the seed of envy in me in those that achieved success. I became competitive, always wanting to prove that I was as good as anyone.

I developed and deeply held an unproven theory: No one is born genius, you decide to be who you want to be”. But I still struggled with rejections because of my limitations.

I remember, in JSS 3, our school was to go for a TV-quiz competition. We did a mock to select those who would represent the school, and though I qualified my name was replaced for no reason. Something, however, happened that also shaped me. I went to the competition as part of the audience, but I answered all the difficult questions that neither school could answer and was thrown to the audience.

The quizmaster was so impressed that he awarded me the prize that was meant to go to those who won the competition, despite not participating in the quiz. The experience taught me that I can rise above opposition and limitation. My struggles, however, continued till I completed secondary school.

I had the highest UME score in my school and gained admission to study medicine at the Obafemi Awolowo University. Medical school was a battle. I manifested all possible problems associated with dyslexia. I hated classes, skipped postings, never had a complete note, struggled to read. But I worked hard to overcome my weaknesses.

I suffered a heartbreak. In 500L medical school, I attended a finance training program and finished the best in a class that had first class economics and accounting students. I was recommended for an interview for an internship position at Bank of America Merrill Lynch London for which I was selected. I got my Visa, but I did not go.

I had misread and inappropriately answered a background check questionnaire, a major symptom of dyslexia, and the offer was withdrawn. I still have the visa till date. How I managed to maintain my sanity during that period is miraculous. These events happened during my exams. I failed and to re-sit two courses.

How I managed to pass the re-sit was another miracle. Anyways, I became a doctor in 2015, but would not celebrate my induction and would not attend my convocation.

In all these, I never lost faith in myself. I still held on to my belief that I can achieve anything I want to. I was determined to be a global or at worst a nation changer. I saw challenges as experiences and stepping stones. Though I have not reached the heights I have set for myself, though dyslexia still rears its ugly head, and though I buffet myself for doing a lot with little achievements to show for it, looking back at what I have done since graduation, I can only look ahead with hope.

I founded SAC healthcare to improve healthcare in rural communities. I am proud that I established the only rural clinic in Orisumbare-Ope, Ife-Ife. I am even more proud that I developed an electronic health record which we have adopted in the clinic. The clinic is the first rural clinic in Nigeria to operate with electronic records. I founded Hincare to continue innovating technology tools to improve healthcare at the community level. We just got a request from the Department of Nuclear Medicine, UCH to develop their electronic record system.

I also own a primary care clinic in Ibadan that focuses on providing preventive health services at the community level with an initial focus on hypertension and diabetes. I am not aware of any similar clinic in Ibadan or even Nigeria that does what we do. I may not have the recognition for my efforts, but I am still working hard as ever to achieve my dreams. Dyslexia cannot and will not stop me.

Editor’s Note:Daniel’s story is part of my blog’s Magazine-Me ideas. The aim is to shine the spotlight on extraordinary young people who are willing to go all out to create positive change in Nigeria. We recognize his effort and if you can relate to his struggles, please share this to reach other young people beating the odds. Thank you. 

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