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Israel Okwuje's Brave Journey Against Hypertension

Israel Okwuje from Nigeria shares his story, on how he is living with hypertension at a young age. His story clearly shows bravery and the importance of why one needs to be armed with knowledge about an illness he or she has, as this is a major step to ensuring that it is controlled. At Engage Africa Foundation, we are very pleased that Israel shared his story with us and we do look forward to when his memoir is published.


- Tell us a bit about yourself

I'm Israel Okwuje, Computer Scientist turned prose writer, I like to say. I grew up in Lagos, where I still live. Besides writing, I'm a decent tenor: shower adlibs and all. Generally, I'd say I'm hopelessly enamored of the creative arts, particularly the literary arts.


- When were you first diagnosed with hypertension?

Late 2013, during my national youth service. I'd suffered a severe bout of malaria and its attendant fever. After having complained about throbbing headaches and a sensation of movement in my head, the doctor I was seeing checked my blood pressure and found it to be notches above normal.


- What are some symptoms of hypertension?

For me, the first sign is intense headaches. At times, it would be what I call undulant headaches, a wavy movement in my head. Other times, a feeling as if my head were literally partitioned into hemispheres. Initially, upon diagnosis, I had suffered shortness of breath and sometimes a choking sensation at my throat. 

Other symptoms were restlessness, fatigue and abdominal pains, though my abdominal pains might have resulted from something else. The doctor I was seeing never said.


- What are some tips for successfully living with hypertension?

Most importantly, salt is your enemy. I was constantly told to avoid consuming salt, and so had to make the difficult adjustment. There's also the DASH diet, which really is to ensure that you eat healthily, for example less food high in cholesterol and more fruits and vegetables. I haven't used medication because of the fear of becoming dependent on it; I feel I'm too young for that. Instead, I try to eat as healthily as possible and exercise. I run 5 kilometres once a week, take long strolls or skip sometimes. 


- Tell us a bit about the memoir that you are currently working on?

My memoir is a reflection of what it means to be young and hypertensive. What it feels like to know that your body's physiology has changed, perhaps irremediably. The book loops back and forth in both time and place, detailing lifestyle changes I've had to make, including paradigm shifts brought about or reinforced by my having become hypertensive. I believe the book does for hypertension what Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking does for grief and what Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running does for marathon-racing. 


- How can people connect with you?

On Twitter, @ohkoojay. On Facebook,


Thank you, Israel!


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About the author

Chiamaka Mogo is a Nigerian and the Manager of Engage Africa Foundation's Hitting Home Series. She is also a media consultant, social justice advocate, blogger ( and Public Administration scholar based in Canada's capital - Ottawa. 


Our mission is to create narratives and inspire action that can put health and wellbeing at the center of Africa's development.

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