When hospital becomes your home: The sad story of 13-year-old Meru girl

Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital

The entrance to Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital where Missy Kananu has lived for two years.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • According to the father, Mr Isaiah Kithinji, Kananu started coughing and getting fatigued in July 2021.
  • Since she comes from a poor background, the family cannot afford to support Kananu in her current condition.

For close to two years, Missy Kananu from Kithwene in Buuri, Meru County, has been living at Meru Referral Hospital, not because she is too sick, but because there is no electricity in her village.

Kananu, 13, enjoyed her childhood and was in grade three when she fell sick and now relies on an oxygen machine to keep breathing.

According to the father, Mr Isaiah Kithinji, Kananu started coughing and getting fatigued in July 2021.

“We went to Meru Hospital where she was diagnosed with TB. When her condition worsened, she was referred to Kenyatta National Hospital and later referred back to Meru where she remains to this day,” Mr Kithinji recounts.

According to Dr Ezekiel Machira, a pediatrician at Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital, Kananu was successfully treated for TB before she was referred to Kenyatta Hospital where it was established that her lungs were damaged.

Since there was no treatment to be offered at Kenyatta Hospital, she was referred back to Meru, where she has been living since then.

“The infection in the lungs caused fibrosis which led to permanent damage. This makes it difficult for her to breathe normally. She has to rely on supplemental oxygen or have the condition corrected through a transplant,” Dr Machira says.

Oxygen mask

He adds, “If she is out of her oxygen mask for a few minutes, she starts turning blue because of low oxygen levels. This means she must remain on oxygen throughout.”

Last year, the hospital had a sigh of relief when the Centre for Public Health Development, a non-governmental organisation, donated a portable oxygen concentrator to Kananu, but it was short-lived.

“The hospital saw this as an opportunity to have Kananu live normally at home. However, when we went to assess their home, it was not tenable to remain there because the portable oxygen concentrator requires a reliable power supply for battery charging,” Dr Machira says.

The portable oxygen concentrator can be plugged directly into power while its rechargeable battery can last up to 12 hours.

Due to the power supply challenges in her village, Kananu had to continue living in the Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital children's ward – denying her the freedoms enjoyed by her peers.

Since she comes from a poor background, the family cannot afford to support Kananu in her current condition.

“She has not had a visitor for several months and her parents are rarely reachable on phone. The hospital staff have been trying to make her feel at home by giving her gifts and books. However, her continued stay in hospital wards is weighing her down,” the doctor states.

Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital executive officer, Dr Lear Moriasi, says while a hospital is not an ideal environment for Kananu, they do not have other alternatives.

“In hospital, she cannot continue with school and is susceptible to infections. We have had to take care of her basic needs even though she is not under treatment. Before the portable oxygen concentrator was donated, it cost the hospital up to Sh50,000 per month for her upkeep and oxygen,” Dr Moriasi says.


She adds that efforts to secure well-wishers and child welfare organisations to take care of the child have not been forthcoming.

“We are appealing to well-wishers who can host Kananu in a place with power connectivity as she continues with her studies, to liaise with the hospital. With the portable oxygen concentrator, she can continue with her normal life outside the hospital,” she said.

Mr Kithinji, the father, also appealed to the government and well-wishers to connect his village to electricity to enable Kananu to return home.

For a long time, calls on leaders by Kathwene residents to connect the village to the national grid have fallen on deaf ears. “We want our daughter to come back home and we will push our leaders until they connect us with electricity,” said Lydia Nkirote, a resident.