PLUNGED INTO DARKNESS But love brightens my world

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201205-it-happened-graceGrace Thuku, 50, lost her eyesight in 2003 after several surgeries to try and correct a health. In a flash, her once beautiful world was ushered into total darkness leaving her immensely traumatised. The journey has not been easy but through the love and support of her family, she is now on the road to recovery and hopes, with God’s grace, to see again one day. Her resilient spirit has pushed her to believe in her abilities once more, as she shares with FAITH MATHENGE-MURIGU.

Life was normal before…

Grace Thuku’s normal life, which was full of many achievements, was transformed from light to darkness without any warning. A senior principal advocate in the State Law Office at the Attorney General’s office, she is married to Professor Thuku Thiong’o, a lecturer at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). The couple met at the University of Nairobi in the early 80s where they were both students – Prof. Thuku pursuing a Masters degree in Chemistry and Grace a law degree. They got married in1985 while Grace was still a student and their first child, Paul Thiong’o, was born in1987. “It was not easy juggling my many roles – wife, mother and student,” recalls Grace.

After university, Grace joined the Kenya School of Law and graduated in July 1988 and was admitted as an advocate of the High Court of Kenya in the same year. Her husband secured a senior lecturer’s position at JKUAT in 1991. He went to India for three years from 1996 to pursue his doctorate degree. By this time, the couple had two more children Caleb Karichu, now 23 and a sixth-year architecture student at JKUAT, and Daniel Thuku, 20, a second year civil engineering student at the same university.

A nasty headache…

Grace left the State Law Office and went into private practice in 1991. All was well with her health until one night in 1997 when she woke up with a splitting headache. She was in so much pain she couldn’t sleep. She called her husband in India who advised her to see a doctor. Grace went to the JKUAT clinic the following day and after the attending doctor ran various tests, he referred her to an optician who prescribed eyeglasses.

“From this time on, my vision started getting blurred and I had difficulties driving at night despite the glasses. In 1999, I saw another optician who gave me a new prescription of eyeglasses but there was no improvement,” says Grace.

While the splitting headaches had subsided, Grace continued to experience continuous dull headaches, which she managed with over-the-counter painkillers. In 2002, Grace’s family moved to their new home in Kahawa Sukari Estate and by this time her eyesight had deteriorated to the extent that she could not read small print at night. She found it very strenuous to read the bible. The doctor at JKUAT recommended her to consult an ophthalmologist. After assessment, she was referred to Mater Hospital for a CT (computerised tomography) scan.

Disheartening outcome…

The scan revealed three tumours on the pituitary gland near her brain. She was referred to a neurosurgeon at the Aga Khan University Hospital. The neurosurgeon ordered for another CT scan. The scan revealed the presence of only one tumour, which was affecting the optical nerves. “I was booked for urgent surgery at the Nairobi Hospital, with an assurance the operation would not be complicated and I would be able to return to work in about two weeks,” Grace explains.

The surgical options available to her were explained in great detail. She could either undergo a craniotomy (open brain surgery), or a transsphenoidal surgery (key-hole surgery). In keyhole surgery, an endoscope (a metal tube with a light and tiny video camera on the end) is inserted through an incision made under the upper lip and over the teeth. This gives the surgeon a clear view of the nose and brain area while watching the images on a monitor and guiding the probe to remove the tumour. Grace went through the latter operation.

The tumour was successfully removed and Grace was up and about within a few hours of the operation, but her joy was short-lived. After a few hours she could not see. The doctor ordered an emergency CT scan to be done and this revealed bleeding into the brain. She was rushed to theatre for an emergency operation to stop the bleeding. The six-hour operation involved opening the skull to clear accumulating fluid in the brain. This operation was successful and Grace could see again. She thought the worst was behind her, but it was not.

She developed another complication. There was a leakage of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) – a clear fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain for support and protection. It appeared that some nerves were injured during the transsphenoidal surgery and this exposed her to bleeding and infection. This new problem required administration of a special glue known as human glue, to seal off the exposed area. Unfortunately the glue was not available in the country at the time. She was prematurely discharged from hospital so as not to be exposed to infections in hospital, with advice to be called as soon as the glue became available.

Back home, Grace developed severe headaches and was hospitalised once again. Her husband had also managed to source the glue from South Africa at a cost of Ksh70, 000 and it was delivered in two weeks. She was back in theatre for another delicate operation to seal off the exposed areas in the brain.

“She responded well to the surgery and her eyesight was fine and she was in high spirits,” says Grace’s husband who sat through this interview. “I went to pick her from hospital on the day she was scheduled to be discharged and was utterly shocked to find her in a pathetic state. She could not see me or recognise my voice,” adds Prof. Thuku. Unfortunately, the glue did not work properly and one of the prescription drugs was having severe side effects on Grace and could only be withdrawn gradually, as abrupt withdrawal could be fatal.

Coping with blindness…

“My wife completely lost her eye sight in October 2003, while still in hospital. It was heartbreaking but I remained strong for her and our three boys. On learning she would never see again, Grace went in denial; she cried a lot. She remained in hospital much longer because her eyes were inflamed. She was discharged from hospital in February 2004. I was advised to get her a full-time nurse and a physiotherapist to help her around. I decided to be her helper. Because my teaching times were flexible I managed to spare several hours each day to help my wife adjust to her new life. It was not easy. Many are the times she fell or knocked on things but I was determined to encourage her,” says Prof. Thuku, adding that all the family members went for rehabilitation in March 2004 to learn ways of helping Grace adapt to her new life.

“I learnt Braille and sat the exams in 2005. I felt strong to return to work and my husband helped me apply for jobs. After a rigorous interview process, I was lucky to get a job with my old employer – the State Law Office in January 2006. I am currently a senior principal state counsel in the advocate complaints commission. Initially, my husband used to drop me to work and pick me up. I now have an assistant who guides me around. My employer and colleagues are very considerate and helpful, and I thoroughly enjoy my work. I have not lost hope of regaining my eyesight, but in the meantime I am focused on adjusting to my new life,” says Grace with great optimism in her voice.

A support system…

Grace says she is lucky to have an extremely supportive husband by her side and thanks God for giving her a perfect soul mate, her best friend. “He protects me and is never embarrassed to hold my hand in public,” she says, adding that her three sons love her unconditionally and this makes her situation easier to bear. “Our family, friends, the Deliverance Church at Kahawa Sukari and Zimmerman and professional colleagues have stood with us, and we shall remain forever indebted. I thank God for His great love,” says Grace in conclusion.

Published in May 2012

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