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I donated a third of my liver to my son



Baby Emmanuel Gathogo was born with a life-threatening condition, biliary atresia and required a transplant

On the Easter Monday of 2018, Damans Mbinya and her husband George Gathogo welcomed their second born child with so much excitement. Baby Emmanuel Gathogo was a bouncing baby boy weighing 3.4 kilogrammes. Damaris had an easy pregnancy, so nothing had prepared the couple for unending hospital visits that followed.

One week after birth, she noticed a yellow tinge on the baby’s eyes. At first, it did not bother her, but when the condition persisted, she took him to hospital. After several tests, they were reassured that it wasn’t anything to worry about. “The doctor advised we just sunbathe the baby and it would clear. We continued with check-ups and at almost three months when it had not cleared, we felt that something was not okay— the baby was also not putting on weight, and the jaundice had now deepened. We decided to seek a specialist in Nairobi. When she saw the baby, she recommended a Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography [MRCP] scan at Nairobi West hospital,” Damaris recalls.

The results showed an absent bile duct and an empty gallbladder. “We were immediately admitted at Gertrude’s Children Hospital, Muthaiga and booked for surgery. The doctor informed us that the earlier the surgery was done, the higher the chances of success, and it could only be done before the 100th day of life. Our baby was now on day 97, but we chose to give it a chance anyway,” Damaris adds.

After surgery he seemed to improve, but only for a short while. “Our joy was short- lived. The liver enzymes started to rise. By this time, he was now growing so weak, his bones were so fragile, especially after weaning him at six months,” says Damaris who also has two other children.

Baby Emmanuel was put on multivitamin supplementation, and drugs to aid in bile flow. Some of these drugs were so expensive and not available in Machakos where the family lived and had be to sourced from Nairobi.

Life threatening

“Geting a nanny was a challenge. This is because of my son’s delicate nature. Also he was irritable, cried a lot, had jaundice, which caused his body to itch and a rash that didn’t seem to go away despite applying all medications we thought of,” she says.

They learnt that their baby had been born with biliaryatresia, a condition in infants in which the bile ducts outside and inside the liver are scarred and blocked. This meant the liver enzyme numbers continued to rise and it was in one appointment visit that the doctor announced that the only treatment option left for him was a liver transplant.

This information was a shocker to the young parents. They have never heard of a liver transplant and were gripped with fear of the outcomes. Above that, the costs for the surgery were high, about Sh4.2 million and surgery could only be done abroad. But they did not want to lose their baby. The doctor had explained that time was of essence, otherwise the baby would not see the second birthday.

“We first approached the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), but unfortunately, they would only pay Sh500,000. I prayed, fasted, visited a prayer mountain for the first time crying to God to change the doctor’s report. I thank God for Masii Christian Chapel in particular, Majesty Cell Group. We hosted all fellowships in my house and cried to God,” Damaris reveals.

Her husband’s friends and relatives organised a fundraising for the Sh3.7 deficit. “We further called for help through social platforms and the media, but still didn’t meet the target and had a deficit of almost Sh1.8million. Left with no other option, we sold off some property,” she recalls.

Financial burden

Damaris recalls how some people even advised against risking so much to save the child saying they would soon bear more kids. But as a family, their minds were made up. So together, they travelled to India mid last year.

In a 13-hour surgery at India Max hospital, Damaris gave 30 per cent of her liver to her son on June 25, 2019. Both the mother and son were then moved to intensive care unit where Damaris spent five days. Emmanuel, however stayed for 21 days and an additional week in the general ward. After being prescribed a year supply of anti- rejection medication, the family was ready to go home.

Emmanuel’s recovery has been smooth. However, getting his medication has been a challenge for the parents. Locally they could not get the drug, Cellcept in syrup form, and had to get it from India. Emmanuel, who is now aged two years and three months has to be on the immunosuppressant for life so that his body does not reject the new organ.

He also see a doctor at Kenyatta National Hospital on a monthly basis. The medication cost Sh20,000 per month including check-ups for his liver enzymes. The family is seeking support from well-wishers who would want to sponsor them through this journey as it has exhausted them financially. “The post transplant meds are too expensive for us and he will be on them for life,” she says.


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Kenyans in US grapple with Covid-19 woes



His conspicuous Kenyan name, Kariuki, is what gave him out and attracted the attention of a handful of compatriots working at the Philadelphia international airport.

Recently, staff at the airport woke up to news that scores of homeless people had been rounded up by the airport police and the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Among them was Kariuki (first name withheld for privacy reasons), a Days later, the Nation located Mr Kariuki in a shelter for homeless people on Island Avenue in South Philadelphia.

Mr Kariuki, originally from Nakuru County in Kenya’s Rift Valley, came to the US as an undergrad student at Temple university in Philadelphia five years ago.

“My mom, a hawker in Nakuru, raised the initial $10,000 for my tuition and that could only last me a semester and a half. Fortunately, I got a part-time job at the library in college but I still had to work at a local grocery store in the evenings and play drums for my church on Sundays where I was paid $100 every Sunday. Things were okay until Covid-19,” said Mr Kariuki.

A combination of photos of counsellor and clinical consultant Abel Oriri, who is based in Cleveland, Ohio; Geoffrey Chepkwony, who died in August in Texas, US; and David Bulindah, a clinical counsellor based in Seattle, Washington.

When, towards the end of March, the state of Pennsylvania shut down everything including education institutions, hotels and shops — and restricted movement, his world came tumbling down.

“My roommate, in whose name our apartment was registered cancelled the lease and returned to Memphis, Tennessee to his family. For almost three months, I lived in my car. It was hard to find food. The nights were cold. I started developing regular panic attacks that left me feeling like I was going crazy!” he said.

So bad were the panic attacks that police found him at the busy intersection between Island Avenue and Lindberg shouting at motorists and trying to stop them.

“I cannot remember doing this,” he says, although he describes himself at the time as “stressed, depressed and contemplating suicide”.

Psychiatric help

One day, he woke up in some psychiatric facility in West Chester and was told he had been there for three weeks.

“I was totally confused, and heavily sedated. I had nowhere to go but at least I knew I had to leave that place,” he says

Mr Kariuki finally went to the airport because one of his classmates was working at an eatery that had remained open. His friend would occasionally give him a fresh meal and, at least at the airport, he’d enjoy heating during spring and cold air in summer. That was where the authorities found him and other homeless people who they took to shelters.

Mr Kariuki’s story is unfortunately now just one of the many familiar stories of Kenyans living abroad — made worse by the pandemic.

“It’s of course true to say that Covid-19 has led to a significant increase and demand for mental health intervention due to anxiety and depression. In fact, recent research indicates that more than 53 per cent of adults in the US have reported that their mental health had negatively been impacted directly,” said Kenyan-born counsellor and clinical consultant, Abel Oriri based in Cleveland, Ohio.

Recently, Kenyans in Houston, Texas, were shocked by the death of Geoffrey Chepkwony, who is thought to have committed suicide after his body was found on the streets. He was said to have been struggling with mental health problems. The Kenyan community in the US, led by those in Texas, has been raising the money needed to ship his remains home following a passionate appeal from his mother in Kenya.

Another high-profile case is that of the first Kenyan-born National Football League player, Daniel Adongo, who later fell from grace. His worrying state was depicted in a video clip widely shared online. His family later said they had sought help for him. Coronavirus seems to have exacerbated social and health issues like homelessness, depression and domestic violence, among others.

Support groups

Mr Oriri, who is also a pastor, says most of his clients now describe feelings of depression, anxiety, worry, stress, loneliness, poor appetite, suicidal thoughts and isolation.

“Many report difficulties sleeping, eating, increased alcohol consumption and substance use. Worsening chronic conditions from worry, depression, and stress over Covid-19.

The anger management and domestic violence groups that I have been providing for more than 20 years have surged one hundred percent in enrollment since the pandemic began,” he said in a recent interview.

David Bulindah, a Kenyan Pastoral and Clinical Counsellor based in Seattle, Washington, said the usually structured life of Kenyans in the US was recently disrupted without warning by the coronavirus.

“Most people could not leave their job and or could not go to their second job. For someone who had been enjoying consistent income to suddenly lose all that, stress, anxiety and depression thus kicks in”. he said.

Mr. Bulindah says that the Kenyan community will only deal with these issues if it opens up and discusses mental health and homelessness candidly without pre-judging those affected.

“People should know that it’s okay to lose a job and it’s okay to experience mental health problems. Those affected should not isolate themselves rather, reach out for help,” he said.


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KNH strike claims its first victim



A man died at the parking lot of Kenya’s largest referral hospital where a strike by 5,000 workers paralysed operations on Monday.

The boda boda rider was taken to the hospital by his friends following an accident.

But the management of the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) insisted the patient was in a critical state and that his death was not due to negligence.

Dr Stanley Kamau, a board member at KNH, said the hospital and staff were not to blame for the death.

The strike disrupted services at the hospital and left patients unattended. The striking employees are protesting a delay to effect a pay rise totaling Sh601 million.

Some families were forced to move unattended patients from the hospital as members of the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions and Hospital Workers (Kudheiha), the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN), and the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) commenced their strike.

Workers’ demands

The workers are demanding implementation of resolutions from the State Corporation Advisory Committee, which upgraded the hospital’s parastatal status from 3C to 7A in 2012.

Following the reclassification, all KNH staff were to benefit from enhanced pay but it has never been effected.

Some workers went on strike late last year, prompting a return-to-work formula with management to end the boycott.

But the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) has said the formula is not a basis for demanding a review of remuneration, arguing it’s not fiscally sustainable and will distort the salary structure in the sector.

SRC has asked the referral to retain the current pay structure as it awaits a job evaluation that will inform the remuneration review cycle for 2021/22 to 2014/25.

KNUN Secretary-General Seth Panyako said members were not interested in the job evaluation and wanted their salaries adjusted as the matter had been approved by Parliament.

“We want SRC to write to the CEO giving authorisation for payment because we know the money is there. We will not go back to work until we get the money,” Mr Panyako stated.

SRC the ‘obstacle’

KMPDU’s acting Secretary-General Chibanzi Mwachonda claims SRC is the only obstacle and it is frustrating health workers in the public sector.

The hospital’s chief executive officer in a letter to SRC yesterday said KNH will ensure the Sh601 million budgeted for in the 2020/21 financial year is paid in October.

In a letter dated February 12, 2013, to then Finance Principal Secretary, KNH detailed the breakdown of the salaries from the CEO to the lowest Job Group K16/17.

The lowest basic salary for the hospital CEO was set at Sh400,000, while the maximum had been capped at Sh560,000. House allowance was to be between Sh60,000 and Sh80,000.

While the CEO’s basic salary was settled at Sh400,000, that of the lowest worker was set at Sh17, 535.


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WATCH LIVE: Covid-19 Conference in Kenya



President Uhuru Kenyatta and other officials are addressing the nation on measures taken to contain the Covid-19 pandemic amid hope for the official declaration of a flattening curve.

Their addresses, which follow a virtual conference on Kenya’s status, come after six months of economic paralysis caused by restrictions instituted to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

President Kenyatta is expected to further ease measures Kenya took after reporting its first case on March 13. Key among them were a nationwide curfew.

As of Sunday, Kenya had recorded 38,115 declared cases, including 24,621 recoveries and 691 deaths. The country has tested 540,308 samples for the disease so far.

More to follow

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