Mending a little girl’s heart

  • PublishedMay 5, 2014

Christine Njeri, mother to four-year-old Ivy Wambui knows the tribulations of having a sick child. When her daughter was diagnosed with a heart disease, her husband kicked her out into the streets where she begged for money to get treatment for the child. Today, Ivy is on the mend, thanks to Safaricom Foundation and Mater Hospital. Christine shares her experience with MWAURA MUIGANA.

 When Ivy Wambui was born in 2009 at the Kajiado District Hospital, she had severe breathing problems and was immediately confined in an incubator. When she began breathing normally, they were discharged from hospital. However, from the onset Ivy was easily prone to various ailments and her health deteriorated with age. According to her mum, Christine Njeri, Ivy was in and out of hospital often admitted for weeks.

At six months Ivy was diagnosed with a hole in the heart (a congenital heart disease) at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH). Her mother was assured that this was reversible and attended regular clinics to prepare her daughter for an operation. There were however financial hitches because Christine was unemployed and her husband didn’t seem enthusiastic about paying for the treatment especially when he realised the treatment and rehabilitation was going to take a long time and would be financially draining.

Accused of witchcraft…

Christine had to contend with all manner of myths from people about her sickly daughter. Some encouraged her to seek prayers in church. In one of the emerging churches the baby was professed to have the spirit of a snake that required exorcism! After a hyped exorcism prayer, Christine was frightened and took off never to seek prayers again.

As Ivy’s health deteriorated and she became emaciated, her head appeared exaggeratedly huge, drawing people’s attention. Her husband buckled under the pressure and blamed her for Ivy’s sickness, attributing it to witchcraft. He concluded that witchcraft run in Christine’s family since her mum suffers from a mental illness.

Christine’s husband started battering his wife and refused to facilitate financial treatment for Ivy, complaining that it was too expensive and in any case witchcraft-related illnesses couldn’t be treated by conventional medicine. She hang on for the sake of her daughter and couldn’t even seek employment because Ivy required round the clock care. About a year later, her husband forcefully threw her and Ivy out of his house.

Begging for medical care…

Unable to raise bus fare to their Maji Mazuri home in Eldama Ravine in Baringo District, Christine moved in with her sister in Kawangware. Since her sister was also struggling financially, Christine worried that her daughter would not survive if medical help wasn’t forthcoming. Thus she did what any mother would have done – begging in the streets for medical care.

The sight of a skinny little girl in her desperate mother’s arms touched some people and they donated money while others gave her food. Interestingly, three police officers on patrol one day gave her money and ordered her to get into the nearest hotel and buy her daughter and herself some food assuming her skinny child was hungry. She kept the money hoping it would one day be enough for a heart operation.

Desperate, she sought medical attention from the newly opened Urafiki Hospital in Kajiado hoping they might do the heart operation free of charge. The doctor was surprised that at two years, Ivy weighed only five kilograms and suspected she was HIV positive. A test turned negative. Christine told the doctor about the heart problem and she couldn’t raise funds for treatment. He was very sympathetic and promised to seek help for her. His best bet was Mater Hospital’s heart project that assists to operate children with heart disease.

For a number of years, The Mater Hospital has joined hands with various local and international organisations to raise funds for children aged six months to 18 years old. Local fund raising is done through the annual Mater Heart Run and other events, together with donations from private individuals and corporate organisations. Families of the beneficiaries are expected to raise what they can towards the treatment depending on the heart condition. In Ivy’s case, her heart operation was estimated to cost a subsidised Ksh 500,000. The doctor gave up, as he didn’t have that kind of money. Christine lost hope and returned to her Eldama Ravine rural home to nurse her disappointment and let God’s will take course.

Rejection from society…

She faced rejection from her family for taking home a dying child, demanding that she takes her daughter to her father and let him carry his burden. Christine returned to Nairobi and went into severe depression that bordered on mental disturbance. She often wandered aimlessly for hours before regaining consciousness of her whereabouts. On many occasions she missed death by a whisker while crossing the road blindly.

A Good Samaritan connected her with Heart to Heart Foundation, an NGO that assists young children with heart ailments. At the time the organisation wasn’t in a position to offer help and referred her to the Safaricom Foundation, a charity funded by Safaricom Limited that responds to needs in the community. She presented her case and thankfully the Foundation paid part of the bill for the treatment to Mater Hospital’s Heart project.

A group of sympathetic pastors also organised a harambee and raised Ksh 38,000.

Christine boosted the medical fund for the operation at Matter Hospital and although it was far below what was needed, the programme was kind enough to allow her child undergo the operation. They even gave Catherine some Ksh 8,000 for her bus fare to and from hospital for clinics until the operation was done. Furthermore she received and continues to receive food and clothing for herself and her daughter from the project before and after the operation.

Getting help finally…

Ivy was examined and discovered with two holes in the heart and booked for several preparatory clinics before the operation that was performed in February 2010. Although Christine called Ivy’s father and informed him about the operation, he wasn’t bothered. After the operation Ivy developed chest complications and was in the intensive care unit for two weeks and in the general wards for a month. Thankfully even though the bill shot up Christine didn’t have to worry because the programme stood in for her.

Before discharge from hospital, Ivy was diagnosed with asthma and her mother was advised on how to manage it with an inhaler. After six months she was off the inhaler. During a routine clinic visit last year, Ivy was diagnosed with a leaking heart vein. The doctors said there was a high chance of a second operation if management by drugs failed.  It was another traumatising time for Christine who wasn’t sure of being twice lucky.

Ivy is well and regaining her health. She attends routine clinic after every six months and is in baby class. Christine is indebted to the Safaricom Foundation and Mater Hospital heart project for giving Ivy a second chance in life. After the successful operation, mother and daughter returned to their rural Eldama Ravine home and this time were accepted back by their family and community at large.

Published on July 2013




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