Keratoconus: Esther Thairu’s Story

As told to Vip Ogola by Esther, her father Stephen Thairu and their good Samaritan Mr. Kamal Sanghani

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Esther: I was young, 2 years old. I had eye trouble and started going to hospital for eye drops. I could see maybe, 30 centimeters and my eyes would pain. The doctors told me it was treatable. It reached a point where I was told I would go in for an operation. I was not afraid even when I saw the razors. I thought it would be painful but it wasn’t. I was anaesthetized and I woke up seeing better. I was in hospital for four days, three of those with my eyes bandaged.

Stephen: Esther was born in Loitokitok. She started having problems with her eyes at the age of two years. She would wake up and find her eyes clogged shut with pus. This happened annually between April and August and we suspected it had something to do with the cold weather. We took her to the district hospital there and she was told she had allergies that would resolve themselves by the time she was eight years old. She was given medication for this.

Esther Thairu.JPGEsther: I do very well in school. I am now 13 years old, and apart from academics, I play football.

Stephen: We moved to Githurai and Esther joined Mercies Academy where she is currently in Standard 6, having dropped back a year due to her medical challenges. Since she was a bright student she caught the attention of her teachers. Teacher Teresia noticed her problems with her eyes and advised us to change to Lions Hospital in Loresho. In the initial year of her treatment, they kept changing drugs. Her right eye was in terrible shape and needed urgent surgery. The left one was also in bad shape. The cost of surgery would be Kshs 350,000/ and they were not taking NHIF. I was confused. I was advised to take her to KNH due to the more manageable costs. On examining her, they concluded that her eyes were badly off. They only perform surgeries once as year so they referred her back to Lions for more urgent attention. We found that the costs there would be the same. I talked to my employer who suggested that we sell my father’s land to offset the costs. She talked to Mr. Kamal Sanghani of the Rotary club about my case and they referred us to Dr. S.P. Amin. We had to wait until he was available.

Kamal: Dr. Amin is in the Board of Lions. He was my contact. I would talk to him and then talk to Stephen. The doctors of Lions are good friends of mine. My family agreed that we would sponsor Esther. We did not know her then, and we have since sponsored three others.  One of the Rotarians told me about her. It took time but Stephen was both patient and persistent keeping me on my toes. Initially it was difficult to get a Cornea. We did not loose home. My mother insisted pushed me from the home front. Since we were working on a tight budget, we agreed that she goes to Lions four or five times. She is a bright student so we wanted to see her excel. There were so many issues and at one point I almost lost my temper with the hospital. Finally we received a Cornea for her from India.

Stephen: They started with her right eye. Then after two months they did Cross linking. She was in a private ward at the hospital and was the only child admitted there at that time.

Esther: I did not go to school. I was told not to by the doctor as it was possible to play a bad game and hurt my eyes. I also needed to avoid dust. I stayed home with Mum and really missed Shule.

Stephen: We had to go to hospital every Saturday after for check-up as she was on medication.

Esther: They would change my specks, I think twice between the first and second operations.

Stephen: They needed to do this to adapt to her strengthening eyesight.

Esther: After I did my first operation, Mr. Francis Mwangi my teacher at my school, Mercies School in Guthurai 44, put me to sit in front of the class. He then moved me to the back of the class to see if I had improved after two week. I had. Fellow students were also supportive in helping me catch up with them, especially Peter Mutuku. I am in Standard 6.

Stephen: She is supposed to be in standard 7 but she lost a lot of time that year and was not able to do her exams.

Esther: My grades are good. I get 350+. At the cross linking the doctors told me that I would go through pain for the night. I stayed indoors for three days with Mum. I am the first of three children and the only daughter of my parents. My mother sells vegetables and my father digs for a living. They gave me eye-drops to put after every two hours.  I was told I could go to school after a week. This was in March 2015. Since that time I have only had my specs changed once. I am in no pain and I can see relatively well.

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Conquering High Blood Pressure with God’s Intervention

img_9679I am 39 years old. I was diagnosed with High Blood Pressure by a doctor at the Webuye District Hospital.

It began one morning with a terrible headache, accompanied by intolerance to any kind of sound. All sound manifested as noise and I resisted the impulse to bang my head against hard surfaces. I was with my husband and he rushed me to hospital. They decided to check my blood pressure and it was at 210/110. The nurse who checked me, was uneasy about the result and she called in another nurse, who repeated the test. They had a hushed conversation between then and then the initial nurse left the room to come back minutes later with a doctor in her tail. He connected his machine and repeated the test and said to them “there is nothing wrong with your machine. The test is accurate.” He put a pill under my tongue, then one of the nurses injected me with what we were told was valium. It was now about 2pm in the afternoon.

They suggested admission but I resisted as my youngest child was 2 years old and needed me. I did not have a house help. I agreed however to come in daily for assessment and medication. My book was full of ‘patient refused admission’. They put me on Inderal for my blood pressure, Lasix to drain excess water in my system, and Ponstan Forte for the headache. Ponstan cost 300 shillings per tablet then. I don’t know if that was the real price or the chemist, to which we went to purchase my medication, was trying to exploit us. But the price was one of two reasons that helped me decide not to purchase it. The other was Dr. Ken’s advice. He was my husband’s close friend and a medical doctor. Dr. Ken talked to me about the dangers of addiction to pain medication, especially strong ones like the ones the hospital had prescribed for me.

I was asked by the hospital staff, after this and on subsequent attacks, about my family’s medical history. My maternal grandfather suffered a stroke just before I was born and was paralyzed by it on his left side. He too resisted medication. He was very fond of me. He lived 15 years after the stroke and then passed on. On my first attack a nurse heartlessly said to me that that was where I was headed. I rejected that heritage. One of my sisters also bleeds heavily during her pregnancies and suffers the swelling of her eyes. I also went through something similar during my last pregnancy, where I woke up once or twice to find my bedding soaked in blood. I did not seek medical attention for it, and my daughter was born healthy in September of 2011 by the grace of God. I was also asked if there was anything that would cause me undue stress. I told them even living in a police line was not a stress factor for me. I had a relatively good life.

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One time I had an attack in the night when my husband was away on duty. We were still living in a police camp at that time, a fact I thank God for. My children were able to run to a neighbour’s house, my husband’s colleague named Koech, and he rushed me to hospital. My head was aching badly, and when they checked my pressure, it was extremely high. They tried to get me to agree to admission, but three of my four children were unwell and on medication. I had no help at home and my husband’s work hours could not be changed to fit into their prescribed schedules. I could not leave my children alone.

I was lucky again, Dr. Ken was at hand to cover for me. He told the doctor attending to me that he knew me, and that I would be faithful in taking my medication and also attending a daily clinic. They again injected me with valium to help with the pain, and put a pill under my tongue. I was later to find out that this pill is called Propranolol. Koech took me home. My pressure was still very high the next morning but the hospital did not detain me. I eventually stabilised. I remained on Inderal and Lasix for the next two years. The headaches seldom came, but when they did, I took Panadol.

In 2005, my husband was transferred to Malindi and because there were some challenges with regard to accommodation, and I also wanted my children to have some stability with regard to their education, I opted to go live with my mother in Kisumu. My mother is a Clinician so she monitored my blood pressure and made sure I took my medication. One April afternoon, I noticed that there was a crusade happening at a hall in Mamboleo, just opposite my mother’s clinic. I asked my mother to take my blood pressure, as I was going over to be healed. I was so tired of medication. She took it and it was high. I went over to the meeting which was being run by Pastor Muliri and Bishop Mark Kegohe. The Bishop announced that there was a healing grace. He called on those with various illnesses that were able to believe God for healing to get up. We were asked to lay our hands on the general area in which we sought healing. I didn’t put my hands on any part of my body. I just spoke to God from my heart; I told him blood was all over my body and so I could not touch a specific part. I asked Him to go to the place where the problem lay and restore it as He had intended for it to work at my creation. I was calm. I went home and my mother measured my blood pressure and it had gone down significantly.

I have never taken any medication since that day, 11years ago, and my BP has remained relatively stable. In terms of diet, my husband loves beef so we have to eat it daily, to the point where one of my sons cannot stand it. I also went off salt for about a year. A few times, I have had a terrible headache that necessitated my going to hospital, and it was during one of those times that I met Dr. Lusi. But I am generally well, all glory to God. I have come to believe that the only thing that can beat science is faith in God.

vipslit@yahoo.ca

Photos by Nash of NaMeD Afrika Studios

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First Published in The Standard’s Sunday Magazine on September 4, 2016

http://sde.co.ke/article/2000215045/i-shouldn-t-be-alive-my-battle-with-high-blood-pressure

The Boda-Boda Saint Named Gordy

gordy-and-the-12-bodaboda-men-of-bunyala2The man arrives at the health center late into the night. He is helped by a community health volunteer, and between them, they support a wailing pregnant woman. All of them are wet, and bloody. A nurse takes the man’s place and supports the woman to the labor ward while the man gets someone to sign a little book and then leaves into the night. He is back two hours later, in different clothes, equally wet, equally bloody, this time he is holding a baby in one arm, while supporting a tired woman with his other. The nurses rush towards him and relieve him. They know him well. He is here almost every night. He is not staff, he is a perpetual good Samaritan.

gordy-with-baby-hildaWe traveled to Bumula sub-county, Bumula village to find out from the 34 year old married father of three Godwin Simiyu Wanyonyi (Gordy) just why he does what he does. Many men would probably rather walk through fire, than be with a woman, for any period of time, who was in labor, especially in the latter stages, even when it is their wife or close relative. But in Bungoma County we met, not just one, but 13 of 23 men with a different perspective. And just in case you are thinking that Bungoma County has hoarded Gynecologists, you are wrong. These are ordinary men, Boda-Boda riders with a calling that leads them to choose to be around pregnant women in labor, to support them by taking them, free of charge, to a health center for medically assisted deliveries.

“I don’t know why, but most women give birth at night,” begins this hero in Kiswahili. “Some nights I get as many as three urgent calls. I respond to all. Many of them are in advanced stages of labor and this for me means that we sit on blood and water all the way to the health center. Sometimes we make it. Sometimes the baby comes on the way to hospital, and I never shy away from the challenge of helping out. Most times the lady is accompanied by a Birth Companion, a Community Health worker, her mother in law or a female relative. Sometimes, like last week, it’s just the two of us.”

Even in the best of times, the rush to hospital when in labour is, to say the least, uncomfortable for most women with the ever present risk of losing the mother or child to the journey. This is even more challenging in the counties outside the capital. In some places, women are ferried on the back of Lorries transporting quarry stones in attempts to save their lives and those of their soon to be born babies. gordy-taking-a-woman-into-healthcareBernard Mare, a Transport Officer with the Ministry of Health Bungoma explains “Many places in the County are inaccessible to regular ambulances due to climatic and infrastructural challenges. Many homes are at least 5kms from the nearest health centers and can only be accessed through footpaths, sometimes mountainous like in the Mount Elgon areas. When it rains, and it is night, family and community members here either use makeshift stretchers with blankets to carry women either  to the centers or to a waiting Bodaboda at more level places. Some are brought in on wheelbarrows. Bodabodas, though considered dangerous by most, is the way most people get anywhere these parts of the country, so it makes sense to encourage their use, with caution of cause.”

“I have been a Boda-Boda man for 9 years, and whenever I see someone sick, I help  them – for free. I think this is what built my regard in this area, but I didn’t know just how much until the election. In June last year, the sub-chiefs angordwinnounced in the markets and in the villages around that they were looking for a Bodaboda man to help the villagers get to hospital, especially in the night. They, the Government, GlaxoSmithKline and Save the Children, had laid out about ten requirements that this man needed to have.  He was to be dependable, a man whose phone was never off, with a volunteer spirit, not a drunkard or criminal, someone who would best represent the community. I had a funeral on the day the election was to take place so I went” Says Gordy.

“The requirements were deliberately stringent. With the challenges in the area, including security, we needed mature men, with good reputations, with valid Riders’ licences, Insurance and a log book showing that they owned the bike they were riding.” Explains Felix Makasanda a Community Development Officer with the Boresha Programme that rose up to respond to Gordy’s initiative.

“When we were just about to bury, I got a call from one of the community health volunteers who knew me well. They told me to hurry back to the market and try my luck. There were about 60 riders who had responded to the call. Some had been campaigning and had come with their supporters. When I walked in, their morale dropped, and one or two asked me what I was doing there. The short of it, is that most of my competitors became my supporters. At the end of it, the community shortlisted five of us, and I got the most votes,” smiles Gordy. At least, Gordy could now fuel his bike on his mercy errands and have a something left to care for his family.

gordy-with-his-wife-janet2“It’s not easy,” his beautiful wife Janet Nafula contributes. “Many of the women get pregnant in the food season and give birth in the drought season. Sometimes these calls come in at night. As a human being of cause there are times I feel bad, but I have learnt to wake him up and release him, with a prayer. The night holds many issues. I am proud of what he does. Sometimes it rains, and in those nights, he could get as many as three calls. Which means I get to wash more clothes, but I do not mind it. I know he is out saving lives, and I trust him totally. He has never been one with a wandering eye, so that does not even worry me,” she says playfully. “He is a responsible father and husband. We have never slept hungry, he has bought and built on this plot, my children are all I school by God’s grace, the last being in a private school. He has helped set me up in a small hotel business where I have 4 employees, and where he comes in to help from time to time. We also farm goats, chicken, maize and beans, which is where we started off.”

How do they get to know his number? “My mobile number is like a hotline around here. The Chiefs announce it during funerals, in churches, at the hospital during clinics and at meetings. Former traditional birth attendants as well as community health volunteers have it.” Gordy explains. beneficiary-1-mildred-simiyu-with-baby-hildaOne of his beneficiaries Mildred Nanjala Simiyu, not a relative of his, who had her baby in March this year shares how on the day she went into labour, they had no way of getting to the hospital. The young mother of three, had walked to the health centers in the company of her loving mother in law for the first two births. This time though, it was raining, dark, and the path to her home in Bonambobi village in Bumula is full of twists and turns and narrows to barely passable footpaths closer to home. It is about two and a half kilometers from Gordy’s. She had challenges with pregnancy related hypertension. Her mother in law had heard about a BodaBoda Ambulance that transport’s people to hospital for free. “I was surprised by how fast he responded. He rode fast, it was just the two of us that night. My mother in law had to stay back to care for the other children. He saved my life and that of my baby Hilda. If it was not for him, I would have died in the process of trying to have the baby here. She kept presenting her chin first.”

beneficiary-2-jessica-wamalwa-with-baby-prosperJessica Wamalwa had a similar experience. She got Gordy’s number from a neighbor at around 11pm in the night. It was a rainy night. “I was overwhelmed. He was gentle and encouraging. He would ride at the pace that was comfortable for me, but would not stop when I asked him to. He said it was important to get me to hospital. Sometimes he would use one arm to hold me steady on my back. We rode also with my mother in law. By God’s grace I had baby Prosper at 3am.”

Gordy confesses that there have been some challenges. The weather, the roads especially on rainy nights, his susceptibility to frequent bouts to malaria and pneumonia. The lack of proper riding and safety gear is also a challenge for him. “I wish also that they would train us in basic first aid so that we could be more useful in cases where the babies come before we get to the health centers. I have so far, in the past years, had four women give birth when I was taking them to hospital.” gordys-colleague-pastor-wilfred-sifuna-otunga-1The other Riders agree with him on these challenges. Pastor Wilfred Otunga who has been doing this work for 20 years due to his love for children says “There is also said to be a ghost rider who terrorizes road users. Many who have seen it describe it as a jacket riding a bodaboda. I have never met it. I believe God has been with me. Many of us have also met with thugs and thankfully none of us has lost their bikes.” Lack of clarity on the role they are playing, by police on patrol was previously a challenge, but since their partners gave them branded reflector jackets with government and partner logos and branded as Ambulance.

Gordy’s twelve colleagues are grateful to him for his perseverance, and good example that impacted all of them to do the work they do. They also appreciate the assistance that has come as a result of their love for their communities. Like Gordy, many have bought land and built their simple homes on them. Some are educating children at all levels including at the University. They have also initiated businesses for their wives in which they work when they are not on the road. Most importantly, it has enamored them to the communities that chose them for this noble work and are committed to supporting them. They echo Gordy’s sentiments as he concludes our day, “I am convinced I was born to do this. I am grateful for the help I have received from the partners, but I did it before and I will do it long after they leave.”

vipslit@yahoo.ca

 

What They Said

Mildred – Gordy is the kind of person who reacts urgently to every call. If it was not for that, I would have died in labor. He is helping the women here, they will not have their children at home unless they do not have Gordy’s number. The number of deaths of mothers has also reduced significantly. I have his number and would recommend him to any woman in labor.

Jessica – Gordy’s work is meaningful. I don’t think my neighbor would have helped me without transport.  I had seen his number on display during clinic. But on that day, I got it from the community health volunteer who is my neighbour called Martin.

dr-brian-inima-moh-bunyala-subcounty-hospital

Dr. Brian Inima

Dr. Brian Inima – MOH Bumula Sub-County: The BodaBoda Ambulances have increased greatly the number of hospital deliveries.

transport-officer-moh-bungoma-county-bernard-mareBernard Mare –Transport Officer MOH Bungom: Gordy has a lot of passion for the work he does.  He has a big heart.

img_0031Dr. John Papaya – Coordinator of Community Health Services, Bungoma County: Gordy has a lot of humanity. No man would otherwise volunteer to do the work he is doing.

Photos and Stories by NaMeD Afrika Studios – (Nashon David Dwoya and Vip Ogola)

First Published on The Sunday Standard’s Sunday Magazine on September 4, 2016

http://sde.co.ke/article/2000214893/birth-by-boda-boda-bumula-riders-who-provide-free-emergency-transport-to-women-in-labour

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