Peter Fregene Cries To Walk Again After Over 17 Years Of Paralysis

Olympian Peter Fregene has been bedridden since he suffered a spinal cord injury in 2001. THEOPHILUS ONOJEGHEN reports that the ex-Nigeria g...

Olympian Peter Fregene has been bedridden since he suffered a spinal cord injury in 2001. THEOPHILUS ONOJEGHEN reports that the ex-Nigeria goalkeeper has lived in terrible condition ever since

“I’m, through this interview, begging Nigerians to please come to my rescue because I love Nigeria. What I’m passing through is like a head of a camel through the eye of a needle. My wife does everything for me. If I want to urinate, she brings my cup to pass urine in, if I want to defecate, she brings a bucket for me to do it. They should not let me die this way. If there is anything they can do to help me walk again, they should kindly do it. They should not give me the money. They should take me somewhere where I can get back on my feet again. I’ll appreciate it. I beg the whole nation to help me,” said Peter Fregene, when SUNDAY PUNCH visited him on Wednesday in Sapele, Delta State.
Truly, the 72-year-old Fregene, a former Nigeria goalkeeper, has been living in pitiable condition for close to two decades, having been paralysed since 2001.

The once popular ex-keeper and role model for Nigerian youths is now a complete shadow of himself and experiences difficulty in breathing, speaking and excreting.

Here in one of the rooms of his two-bedroom flat at Efe Street, off Ikomi Road in Sapele, was Fregene, once a household name, covered in a purple cloth, lying down on the mattress and gasping for breath.

The tall and once handsome Fregene – as was evident from his pictures — now lie helpless. If he must move his hands or change position on his mattress, his wife, Tina, would have to do that for him.

In fact, Tina does everything for her once agile husband and she barely can afford to leave his presence, except someone deputises for her.

Fregene had a belt fastened to his stomach – it is meant to ease pain on his spinal cord, our correspondent learnt.

Just beside him is an empty bucket and a cup; the bucket serves as the toilet, which he defecates in, while he urinates inside the cup.

The Olympian has been in that pathetic state for six years, Fregene’s wife, Tina, said.

“It’s six years now since he’s been unable to walk or even move his feet. Since then, he’s been crawling with his buttocks. He can’t stand, even if you raise him up. He’s always on the ground or on his bed,” Tina said.

Fregene is regarded as one of Nigeria’s finest goalkeepers.  At the peak of his career, he was first choice goal tender for the national team between 1968 and 1971, representing the country at the 1968 Olympic Games. He was recalled to the Green Eagles for the 1982 African Cup of Nations in Libya, after over a decade out of the national team.

The Sapele-born shot-stopper won the FA Cup with the ECN and Stationery Stores in a career that spanned over three decades, before retiring into coaching.

On retirement, Fregene had ventured into discovering and grooming young footballers and life was going on well after relocating from Lagos to Sapele, until October 19, 2001.

On that day, Fregene was in the bathroom, when Tina said she heard her husband’s cry for help.

“He had just come back home from training his boys and was having his bath. Then suddenly, he cried out, calling me and saying he could no longer walk. I thought it was one of his usual jokes. I then went to the bathroom and there he was on the ground, unable to stand up. So, I aided him to the living room,” Tina said.

She said several attempts to get her husband back on his feet proved abortive, adding that the only time Fregene got close to walking again was when Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola (SAN), as the Governor of Lagos State, sponsored an operation for him at Reddington Hospital in Lagos in 2009.

She said things became worse after they returned to Delta State.

The former ex-international’s wife added, “I went to his hometown, Arhagba in the Okpe LGA of Delta State, to inform his brothers of the development. When they came, they took him home and he spent seven months there. Before then, NEPA, where he retired, sent a doctor to check him and they said they needed to take him to Saudi Arabia for treatment, but doctors had to diagnose the problem first.

“The doctor from NEPA took him to the University College Hospital, Ibadan. I and my first daughter I went with him but the UCH staff were on strike. We went to a consultant, who took us to his hospital and they admitted him there. On the second day, we went to Ile-Ife and did scans to check if something was wrong with his brain.”

Tina said contrary to widely held opinion that Fregene was suffering from stroke, it was discovered that he had paralysis as a result of spinal cord injury.

“It was there (Ile-Ife) they discovered that it was his spinal cord that was affected. We came back to Teju’s Hospital and we stayed there for three months. The Delta State Government, led by former Governor James Ibori, came to our aid between 2003 and 2004. We stayed at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital for 10 months before we came back.

“In January 2009, Segun Odegbami spoke with Fashola and the former governor sent two doctors to Sapele. The doctors, after checking him, took him to Lagos. He was admitted at Reddington Hospital in Victoria Island.

“On January 15, an operation was carried out on him. We spent two months in Reddington Hospital before we were moved to a guest house on Isaac John Street, GRA, Ikeja. Two doctors were assigned to him there. We spent 10 months there before we returned to Sapele. Since then, there has been no treatment. His uncle moved us from our former place to this apartment because the place is not conducive for us. The former place was given to us for free by Benson Ogbakpa.”

Despite sitting in the room with him alongside Tina for over 30 minutes, Fregene was unaware of our correspondent’s presence.

Twice, he made failed attempts to change position on the bed, but his efforts ended with shouts due to the sharp pains he experienced in the process. And he resigns himself to fate in his position until Tina aids him to turn sideways to see those that were in the room with him.

Through sign language, he informed his wife he wanted to pass urine unlike in the past, when he used a whistle in calling the attention of his wife and children.

The wife was swift to react as she dragged the cup quickly for him to urinate in.

It’s been like that since he became bedridden, Tina told our correspondent.

She seems to have mastered every sign language by her husband. Done with urinating, Fregene heaved a sigh of relief. It was at this point he noticed the presence of our correspondent.

About 30 minutes later, once again through sign language, he informed his wife of his desire to defecate. Tina took the black bucket, which she described as Fregene’s “mobile toilet”, close to him and politely excused our correspondent for a few minutes.

While waiting in the living-room, our correspondent could feel the pains that came with the ex-international’s attempt to empty his bowels. Fregene was wailing and virtually in tears.

After this, Fregene made repeated attempts to contribute to the interview with his wife. Each time he made an attempt, his wife would console him due to the sharp pains he experienced while trying to contribute to the conversation.

Yes, he still talks, though slowly, but you need to be very attentive to hear him, as he is barely audible.

Finally, Fregene had the opportunity to speak, after the pains eased.

“I won’t say I don’t feel bad but I thank God for everything. I thank my wife for being supportive. I give her kudos for staying around me. I also thank my boy, Event Eferhobo, for always being supportive and not making me feel lonely. They take me to church on my wheelchair,” he began.

“I started playing football in 1966 in Lagos. I lived all my life in Lagos. Majority of my playmates are dead but the few of them alive, we speak on the phone.

“I was working with NEPA and was transferred to Ughelli to coach Delta All Stars. There was a time I called it quits and put in for my voluntary retirement. After that, I decided to come to Sapele to bring up my people. That’s where I met Eferhobo. He was very supportive and we were trying to start a team in Sapele when suddenly this ailment occurred. It’s a pity I couldn’t continue my heart’s desire.”

The battle for survival has come with some setbacks. Fregene once featured in Who Wants to be a Millionaire, a game show on television, and won N500,000 on compassionate grounds. It was diverted to payment of debts that accrued on medical bills.

In fact, the family reportedly sold some of their household property just to make ends meet. One of them, an indoor device, which was donated by Fashola to aid the former goalkeeper’s rehabilitation and valued at N100,000, was reportedly sold for a paltry sum of N15,000.

Recently, President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick, stated that the football-governing body would institute a welfare foundation for former Nigeria international players in order to guarantee ready funding for them in case of unexpected health challenges.

Pinnick gave the assurance in London on May 17, hours after receiving former Green Eagles captain, Christian Chukwu, who was flown to the UK alongside his wife and sister for medical treatment.

Pinnick also promised that the federation would pay Chukwu N500,000 monthly as salary.

He said, “I am happy that he (Chukwu) is here (London) now and we have made adequate arrangements for his surgery, medication and general after-surgery care. He will get the best treatment possible and we are confident he will return to Nigeria hale, hearty and sound of mind and body.”

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