AT THE VERGE OF DEATH

When Judy Mbere, 30, was pregnant with her second child, she was very excited. She longed to embrace her baby. But his arrival was an anti-climax of sorts – the baby suffered a life threatening disease. To make matters worse, her husband abandoned her at her time of need. She developed stomach ulcers as a result of stress. Despite her family’s undying support, Judy lost all hope, but what she describes as a miracle happened. She shares the events as they unfolded with MILLICENT KAMAU.

When I got pregnant with my second baby, my husband and I were excited. I started antenatal classes early and even shopped early for the baby’s provisions. Apart from the normal pregnancy blues, my pregnancy was progressing just fine. At five months, my husband was temporarily laid off in what his employer described as company restructuring. This was a big blow to us since he was the sole provider as I was just a housewife. We were however hopeful that his employer would recall him.

We struggled to make ends meet. My husband did odd jobs to provide for us. Many are the times he came home without any money so we had to borrow from family and friends. Rent arrears on our two-room house that didn’t have water in Kawangware, Nairobi, accumulated and affording daily bread was a problem. On July 7, 2009, I gave birth to baby Benjamin Matili with no complications. My siblings paid the hospital bill of Ksh.8000. Three days after being discharged, I was back at the same hospital. I was experiencing malaria like symptoms.

We took Benjamin with us so he could also be checked. On our way, I noticed Benjamin’s eyes and gums were yellow in colour. I hadn’t noticed this earlier since our house was dark. I was diagnosed with malaria and Benjamin with jaundice at its advanced stage. The hospital did not have the facilities to treat that kind of jaundice so we were referred to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) where we got immediate admission. The doctor attending to Benjamin informed us that the jaundice was chronic and was likely to affect the baby’s internal organs. To prevent this, Benjamin had to go through phototherapy until the jaundice cleared. Phototherapy is a treatment that cures jaundice.

On discharge five days later, the jaundice hadn’t completely cleared. The doctor however assured us that Benjamin was safe and that the jaundice would clear with time since it was only a small percentage remaining in his body. We were however advised to take him back for review after two weeks. By this time, my husband and I were penniless. The hospital bill had accumulated to Ksh.10000. We also needed some Ksh.2000 for Benjamin’s review. My husband and siblings struggled to raise the money. During Benjamin’s review, the jaundice had cleared and he was declared fine.

We struggled to make it through each day. We labelled days that we were able to buy the basic needs ‘miracle days’. Due to the poor diet, my breast milk reduced and had to feed Benjamin on cow milk. I was really suffering and furthermore, I was still recovering from giving birth and caring for my four-year-old daughter, Abigail Wangui. I became very moody and easily snapped at those around me and cried often. My husband always consoled me but was overwhelmed when my situation worsened. He sought help from counsellors and was advised to continue supporting and encouraging me. One day, my husband received a phone call from his employer. This raised our hopes assuming he was being recalled back to work. On the contrary, he was being asked to collect his dismissal letter.

We were very saddened but remained positive, hoping that he would get another job. Our problems persisted to the extent that I relocated to my parents’ home in Nyahururu in August, 2009. Thankfully, our landlord let us move out without clearing the rent arrears. A close friend assisted us to move our household items to my brother’s home nearby. My husband was housed by a relative in Nairobi’s Karen Estate and continued doing odd jobs. Life changed for the better at my parent’s home. I resumed breastfeeding and Benjamin’s health improved drastically. All was well, or so I thought! One day, a nurse friend visited us and advised us to take Benjamin back to hospital as she noticed Benjamin, now three weeks old, was breathing heavily. I took him to Nyahururu General Hospital where he was admitted with recurred jaundice and fever.

He was discharged a week later after his condition improved. We were advised to seek further medical attention at KNH since Benjamin’s eyes and gums were still yellowish and he was experiencing difficulty in breathing. At KNH, he was tested for different disease as the symptoms he had were an indication of something more serious.

Every day for three consecutive weeks, I took Benjamin for tests. My sister housed us during that time. My financial situation had worsened, as my husband was no longer supporting us. He kept insisting that Benjamin was not sick. He never called nor came to visit us despite several requests to do so. He abandoned us at a time we needed him most. I cried most of the time wondering why he turned against us. In the midst of all this I developed stomach ulcers. This was another burden since I also needed medical attention. I relied on my siblings for financial and moral support. Were it not for them, Benjamin and I would never have survived. Despite several tests, Benjamin was not diagnosed with any disease. This worried me as his condition was deteriorating. He was not only underweight, but also his eyes and gums remained yellowish, and his urine was also yellow with a strong smell. His face had turned black. The doctor attending to Benjamin advised us to see a gastrologist, a specialist who examines internal organs.

We were referred to a Dr. Ngwatu at Gertrudes Garden Children’s Hospital. Dr. Ngwatu listed a number of tests Benjamin needed to undergo. Since the tests were expensive at Gertrude’s Garden Children’s Hospital, I went back to KNH, which was much cheaper. I then took the results back to Dr. Ngwatu but again, nothing was found. At this point I was almost losing hope but the doctor kept encouraging me. I had sold all my house items to pay for the tests but the money was almost running out. I informed Dr. Ngwatu of my financial situation and he was very willing to help. He told me to only worry about the test’s fee, as he would forego the consultation fee since I would be seeing him at his clinic at Upperhill Medical Centre. Benjamin went through more than 20 different tests but nothing was found.

I was devastated to a point of wanting to end my life and Benjamin’s. I prayed everyday asking God to at least give us a sign of what Benjamin was suffering from, but nothing seemed to come through. I knew that God would soon perform a miracle, and He sure did. After a liver biopsy test, Benjamin was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, a condition that affects liver functions. He was put on medication, which started improving his condition. Benjamin wasn’t admitted in hospital although Dr. Ngwatu required to see him three times a week for monitoring.

Benjamin was also required to have a liver test done once a week to monitor its condition and function. Since I had run out of funds and Benjamin needed medication and my debts had accumulated, I decided to call for a fundraising. We managed to raise Ksh70000. Benjamin’s condition improved tremendously and we moved back to Nyahururu. The weekly appointments were rescheduled to once a month. Benjamin was now six months and still on breast milk only. I couldn’t wean him because he was still too weak.

When all seemed fine, Benjamin developed a heavy cough and high fever. I rushed him to Nyahururu General Hospital where he was diagnosed with an over sized heart and rheumatic fever. He was admitted immediately. The medication administered didn’t seem to work. The situation got worse. Benjamin was not crying, moving, urinating or breastfeeding. I tried pressing my breast milk into his mouth but he could not even swallow. He was put on oxygen, as he couldn’t breath by himself. I was traumatised that I couldn’t even talk; the most I could do was just cry. I knelt down and asked God not to let my baby die.

When nothing seemed to work, I gave up. I said my final prayers thanking God for having brought Benjamin in my life. I then surrendered Benjamin’s life to God. I held him in my arms and waited for him to grasp his final breath. At midnight, a miracle happened, Benjamin opened his eyes and started playing around. I was surprised beyond words. His fever had drastically dropped and results from a heart x-ray revealed that his heart had gone back to its normal size. Doctors were equally surprised; they couldn’t explain his speedy recovery. We were discharged three days later.

Benjamin had another liver test done that showed his liver was normal. He is today a healthy normal baby and nothing makes me happier than this. I thank God for every breath that Benjamin grasps. Now one and a half years old, Benjamin’s ill health has not reappeared and his liver and heart remain healthy. My husband has been seeking reconciliation but I don’t want to go back to him. I would be pretending to be happy if I reconciled with him. For now, I just want to concentrate on bringing up my children. I have since moved to my own house in Nyahururu and started a business. I am very fulfilled with my life and I thank God for it.I will forever remain greatful to my family and friends for their support.”