On borrowed time: Mombasa tutor watches husband slip away

Keen Nyakundi Masese

Retired teacher Keen Nyakundi Masese with his wife Martha Masese, also a teacher in Mombasa, at their family home in Mombasa on May 22, 2023.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

 A scientific miracle. That is how local doctors describe Mr Keen Masese Nyakundi, who has been living “on borrowed time” since 2018.

It started in 1983 when the now retired teacher was admitted to the Coast General Hospital for a year.

He had complained of an endless burning sensation and pain in his toes, a persistent cough as well as back pain that would not allow him to walk for even for short distances.

Doctors at the public hospital said Mr Nyakundi’s veins were narrow.

They directed him to stop taking salt and put him on treatment “that would make his veins grow larger”.

After a year of no tangible progress, the family sought a second and third opinion before taking the decision to transfer Mr Nyakundi – who diligently served the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) – for 40 years to Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH), Mombasa.

According to Dr Swaleh B Misfar, an interventional cardiologist at AKUH, Mr Nyakundi was diagnosed with double valvular disease, aortic valve disease and mitral valve disease.

The National Library of Medicine says there are three types of valve diseases.

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It depends on which valve is affected and in what way.

Heart valve diseases can cause problems in any of the four valves of the heart – aortic, mitral, pulmonary and tricuspid.

“Bicuspid aortic is a valve that forms with two flaps instead of three, a mitral valve prolapse occurs when the mitral valve flaps bulge back (prolapse) or flop into the left atrium,” scientists say, adding that valves control blood flow through and out of the heart.

“This may prevent the valve from forming a tight seal. A pulmonary atresia and tricuspid atresia result when valve openings do not form correctly as the heart is developing.”

When they are working well, one’s heart valves operate in a smooth sequence to direct blood efficiently through the heart to the lungs and rest of the body.

Every valve has a set of flaps that open and close with each heartbeat and the flaps make sure blood flows in the correct direction.

Ms Martha Nyakundi opened up to the Sunday Nation.

“His heart was damaged by the three diseases and the valves were failing fast. That is why doctors recommended an open-heart surgery,” Ms Nyakundi, also a teacher, said on Monday.

The cardiologist recommended that Mr Nyakundi be taken to Madras Medical Mission’s Institute of Cardio-Vascular Diseases in India for the open-heart surgery.

The operation was conducted on February 22, 2011.

A team of two surgeons and four doctors inserted metallic valves to sustain Mr Nyakundi’s heart.

They said the valves could only sustain him until 2018, after which the teacher would need another urgent surgery to repair the vital organ that pumps blood.

“Doctors call it a miracle. My husband is still alive but bedridden. The pain is endless. It is painful to watch the love of my life go through this,” Mrs Nyakundi said, adding that the family is in financial dire straits.

“We have sold everything. I have borrowed money from everyone. My friends flee on seeing me or refuse to pick my calls, assuming I will ask for money,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“The National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) has refused to help us get the surgery my husband needs while the TSC has never settled his retirement benefits. It is painful to helplessly watch the man you have shared 50 years of your life with slip away.”

Family and colleagues chipped in after the Nyakundi family sold almost every asset it had.

“I have taken loans from saccos and elsewhere to get my husband to India. During his years of service, teachers had no medical cover,” Mrs Nyakundi said.

Mr Nyakundi started teaching after his Bachelor’s degree and was absorbed by the TSC in 1984.

Mrs Nyakundi, a mother of four boys, added that none of her children is gainfully employed.

“Our first born trained as an aeronautical engineer, the second has a degree in biotechnology , the third is trained in commerce and has a master’s degree while the last born has not completed his studies as the family cannot afford the fee,” she said.

“Even paying rent has become difficult. I never imagined my family would get to a point of going hungry or failing to feed our patient. My husband requires a specialised diet, an expensive venture for me and the boys,” she said. 

“My husband does not eat anything that has vitamin K. That means I must buy for him chicken, beef or fish daily. The rising cost of food and other basic items is making life even more unbearable.”

Mrs Nyakundi does not understand why Kenyans like her do not get help from the NHIF despite remitting monthly dues.

“The worst bit is that nobody at the TSC is listening. Our many visits to the commission and letters have never been responded to,” she added.

But even with the gloom, Mrs Nyakundi said her family still sees light at the end of the tunnel.

“One my boys has been invited to the United Kingdom to join the Royal Navy as a writer logistician,” she said.

“Unfortunately, we may not see him through the entire recruitment as there are many conditions, including visa applications and other travel expenses which the family must meet.”