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Martha Educational Foundation - Charity Fundraising

May 11, 2010

Tribute to “Diggs”
De Graft Hayford Topp Yankah MB ChB FRCS FACS
1953 - 2008


It seems to most, so difficult to understand that you took your own life. On the surface, it will be said that you chose suicide. We who try our best to heal the mind know that suicide chose you. We have not as a people found it easy to deal with death, particularly when it occurs in the prime of life. At 55, you were already an accomplished well trained urological surgeon having served in Ghana, the UK, Germany and USA.

We will never know for sure the depths of despair and torment to which you succumbed before your departure from this life. Those of us who were privileged to know you over the years can only surmise that your passing should signal to our society that ailments of the mind can afflict anyone, irrespective of their station in life or their accomplishments.

We accept that a “broken” pancreas results in Diabetes Mellitus, a “broken” cardiovascular system can result in a heart attack or a stroke as the result of hypertension. We are yet to appreciate fully that a “broken” brain can cause great disturbances in how we think, feel and act. A “broken” brain can result in chemical imbalances which result in unsolicited deep sadness, hopelessness and melancholia so deep that death itself promises the only relief. As physicians we know that one of the earliest medical conditions described by Hippocrates, the father of modern tradition of medicine was Melancholia, which he attributed to imbalances in body “humors”. We now recognize this as Clinical Depression or Major Depressive Disorder, which if untreated can result in suicide. This is just as untreated hypertension can cause death by stroke or a heart attack.

It is my wish that your passing not be reduced to trite and ignorant headlines which refer to you as the “suicide doctor” and the like. You have offered our society an opportunity through the sacrifice of your life, for an understanding of the “broken brain”. Major Mental illnesses are real and often result from biochemical changes in the brain beyond an individual's control. Your death and the resulting loss to your family, the medical community and the nation should cause us to begin to appreciate the burden of mental illnesses to those who suffer from them. The good news is that many major mental illnesses, including major depression can be treated if recognized early. The bad news is that many who suffer are reluctant to seek treatment or to admit their symptoms because of the fear of being stigmatized. Paa Kobina, the supreme sacrifice of your life can only serve to educate our society about how the brain can be broken as a result of the interaction of genetic, physiological, biochemical, psychological, social, cultural and spiritual vulnerabilities.

We of the University of Ghana Medical School [UGMS] class of 1978, can only remember you as the life and soul of the party, an intellectual force, an extremely hardworking, committed and compassionate physician and above all, a generous friend. You have saved many lives and brought comfort to the families of your patients the world over.

Diggs we bid you a sad, fond and fraternal farewell. May Nananom welcome you to the sound of the horn section of “Iron, Zion, Lion” with their understanding of the burdens you shouldered during your life on this earth. We all remember you as you were; a generous and ethical man, a meticulous surgeon a compassionate physician and above all a man committed to his family and friends. May your soul rest in perfect peace. Paa Kobina Damirifa Due, Damirifa Due, Due, Due Due!

“The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind.” – “One Love”.

Prof. Thaddeus P. Manus Ulzen MB

On behalf of UGMS class of 1978.

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