The Grandeur of Men and Women
By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 28, 2023
On November 11, Raphael Dwamena, a Ghanaian footballer, collapsed and died during an Egnatia's soccer game against Partizani in a tiny town in Albania. He was 28 years old and a renowned football star. Dwamena was the top scorer for his Albanian team and enjoyed a certain amount of success with them. This season he was the leading scorer in the Albanian league.
In spite of his success on the field, he was having problems with his heart. In 2017, he was diagnosed with a heart condition. In October 2019, his heart condition was got worse. Dr. Antonio Asso, his personal physician, wrote an open letter in Heraldo, a Spanish newspaper after he died. He said that he met Dwamena in October 2019 when Dr. De los Martires from El Real Zargoza solicited his advice about the dizziness that Dwamena had suffered in previous matches.
In spite of the seemingly bad news, Dwamena continued to ply his trade. One would never be sure if his decision to continue playing soccer was made for financial or religious reasons or because he felt he was invincible. His heart problem got worse.
In January 2020, while at Levante UD, he had an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (IDC) implanted through surgery. A defibrillator is a device that automatically pumps high-energy electric shocks to the heart of person experiencing cardiac arrest, which usually helps to save his or her life. In October 2020, the IDC showed values that were too high and his club, Vejle, withdrew him from team activities.
In June 2021, he returned to Austria and signed a two-year contract with a club there. On October 2021, he collapsed on the field during an Austrian Cup game. He was shocked by the ICD and stabilized quickly. The defibrillator saved his life. Dr. Antonio Asso, his personal physician, wrote in Heraldo, a Spanish newspaper: "We managed to convince him of the imperative need to implant a defibrillator to at least guarantee his life, at the same time as we advised against playing professional sports. He placed all of his trust in us, and after implanting the defibrillator he left Spain. Sometimes he would ask me for specific advice, which I gladly gave him…I insisted that the defibrillator was indispensable if he wished to remain alive."
However, he continued his professional career. In December 2022, he joined the Albanian team, Egnatia Rrogozhine as a free agent. On July 13, 2023, he scored two goals for Egnatia in a 4-4 draw with FC Ararat-Armenia game. It was the height of his career. On November 11, Dwamena suffered a sudden heart attack and collapsed on the field. He died on his way to the hospital. His surgeon disclosed he had removed the defibrillator from his body about a year before he died.
Dwamena might have removed the defibrillator for economic reasons. Dr. Asso explained: "I was conscious of the transcendence my words would have on this young African athlete, who around that time was among the economic elites but whose future as a soccer player was vanishing."
It might have also been for religious reasons. In 2022, after Dwamena removed the defibrillator, he was photographed on his hospital bed in a black jersey that read: "Jesus is Not a Weekend Thing."
Dr. Asso was sympathetic but realistic about Dwamena's death. He said: "He died as a result of a respectable personal decision. But if the defibrillator had not been expanded, Raphael would still be alive. We managed to convince him of the imperative need to implant a defibrillator to at least guarantee his life, at the same time that we advised against practicing professional sports."
Other professional-such as basketball players and American footballers-- have collapsed on the playing field and died. However, Dwamena continued to practice his profession even though he knew he could have died if he didn't stop playing the game. Instead, he chose to live doing something that he loved rather than waiting patiently to die from other causes.
Dwamena's life and its tragic end reminded me of a neighbor who managed to get two liver transplants in New York. He was lucky since it is difficult for a black man to receive an organ in the United States. He was taking his medicine to prevent his body from rejecting this foreign substance in his body until he joined an evangelical church where inspiration and total belief in the healing powers of Jesus Christ demanded that he relied on his faith rather than medical interventions to heal him.
The pastor suggested that if he had faith in Jesus, he should stop taking the medicine and to prevent his body from rejecting the transplant. He stopped taking the medicine and in a few months he was dead. Such was his religious faith or lack of faith in modern medicine.
On does not know why people make such decisions. Were the decisions that Dwamena and my neighbor made a matter of personal conviction in one's invincibility or a devotion to a loving God in whose hands they place their life?
One might not be able to answer these questions until one is faced with them personally. However one answers the question, it speaks to the grandeur of men and women and their ability to take their fate into their own hands.
—Prof Cudjoe's e-mail address is email@example.com. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.
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