For four hours, Robert Omondi watched his wife writhe in pain while her lower body was soaked in blood. Mr Omondi made several calls to the nurses at Mama Lucy Hospital in Nairobi after realising that his wife was lying in a pool of blood and in the same bed with his two twins wrapped in blue baby shawls. No one was responding.
“Attend to my wife,” he shouted again. Hours later and after a botched transfer to another hospital, Mr Omondi lost his wife, becoming a single father and another victim of a broken healthcare system in the country.
It all started last week on Tuesday morning when Ms Maureen Anyango welcomed her twins who were born after a caesarian section at Mama Lucy. The boys weighed 3.9 and 3.8 kilogrammes.
“I was the happiest man. But given that she was carrying twins, my wife was extremely tired,” Mr Omondi told Sunday Nation at his home in Fedha estate, Nairobi.
At about 9.30 am, Ms Anyango, together with her two boys, was wheeled to the maternity ward cube five. While having a chat with the wife and admiring his boys, he noticed blood running through the intravenous line on her right hand. He alerted a nurse. For 30 minutes, he waited for the nurse to come, unfortunately, she never showed up.
He reached out to another nurse, who instructed him to pull the syringe from his wife’s hand.
“Wewe tuko na kazi nyingi, hicho kitu unaweza toa hata peke yako, (we have so much to do; you can as well remove it). Just pull and tie the two ends,” shouted the nurse.
Mr Omondi did as he was instructed. However, he noticed the sheets were soaked in blood as well. He went and informed the nurses that his wife was bleeding. It was about 11.30am. No one came to check on them.
“Lift my leg, remove the soaked cotton wool and place a new one,” his wife told him. He did this three times; she was now bleeding clots of blood.
“She was getting weaker. The children were crying."
It took the intervention of other patients who shouted for help for the nurses to come. “Saidieni huyu kijana,” shouted one of the patient.
Maureen was suffering from severe bleeding after childbirth, medically known as post-partum haemorrhage (PPH). It is the leading cause of maternal mortality worldwide. More than half of these deaths occur within 24 hours after childbirth. The bleeding is due to either a placenta that is not expelled after birth or when the uterus fails to contract after delivery. Each year, about 14 million women experience PPH, resulting in 70,000 deaths. In Kenya, it is the leading cause of maternal mortality, accounting for 34 per cent of maternal deaths.
“It wasn’t until 1.45 pm after ruckus from other patients that the nurses finally attended to my wife. Two nurses came, Maureen was rushed back to the theatre room,” he recalls.
Meanwhile, the boys were uncontrollably crying. At 4.15 pm, Mr Omondi received a call from the doctor that Maureen had lost a lot of blood and needed three pints of blood. This, they said, would be done by 8pm.
“You can imagine the torture I went through in those hospital corridors. You are being told that your wife is not in good condition, she is being transfused, you are not allowed to see her, no one is updating you on her progress, and the boys are crying, my God! I would not wish that even to my enemy,” Mr Omondi wept.
He left the children with his sister-in-law, went back home, prepared hot water, took the boy's feeding bottles, bought Nan, the baby formula, and rushed back to the hospital. At about 7.30 pm, he received another call from the nurse in charge that the wife’s condition had worsened and she needed a referral.
“We have been trying to call most of the hospitals within Nairobi and, unfortunately, in some of them, like Kenyatta National Hospital, there is no space, Kenyatta University Teaching and Referral Hospital and Machakos Level Five Hospital need money before the patient is admitted, do you have the money we make the booking?” the nurse asked.
“All I have in my life is Sh2,000,” wept Mr Omondi, who sells smokies and eggs by the roadside to earn a living.
The couple did not have private health insurance or National Health Insurance Fund card but depended on the free maternity government scheme, Linda Mama, to clear their bills.
“Make calls and see whether you can raise the money, crying will not help you, your wife’s condition is worsening,” the nurse told him.
At about 8 pm, 30 minutes after, a call came in: “We have found space at Kiambu Level Five Hospital, they have agreed to admit her and you will pay for the expenses later. So, all we are waiting for is the ambulance then we leave. Please, get ready,” he was informed by the nurse.
Within 10 minutes, he got ready, left the boys with the sister-in-law and rushed out to escort his wife. This was not to be, Mr Omondi had to wait for another four hours from around 8 pm to midnight for the ambulance. The vehicle, he was told, had taken a patient out of town. At about 12.10 am on Wednesday, Maureen was wheeled out. “I was surprised to see my wife; she was on oxygen; her body was swollen. I knew I was losing her,” he said.
Admitted to intensive care unit
When they arrived at Kiambu Level Five Hospital on Wednesday morning, she was immediately admitted to the intensive care unit. Mr Omondi was asked to leave and return in the morning.
“I went and sat at the tent next to the hospital entrance, set an alarm on my phone and at about 6.45 am, I went back to check on my wife. I was informed that my wife had developed complications and the doctors were resuscitating her.”
“Just go and wait, we will call you,” he was told.
“I waited until 9am, no one was talking to me. I went back. I was ushered in and directed to a room. The nurse came in carrying Maureen's file, I immediately sensed something was wrong,” Omondi recounted.
“We are sorry, your wife Maureen breathed her last at about 8.30 am. We tried all we could, but she had been brought here late,” the nurse said.
“It’s my prayer that women who are giving forth life are valued in these hospitals, there is a massive disconnect between patients and people who are responsible for their lives. I wish someone would have attended to my wife on time, my wife would be breastfeeding her sons. Why are we putting money first?” Mr Omondi said.
Met at food kiosk
The two met in April last year at Maureen’s food kiosk. He was her customer.
“My chef is no more, the mother of my sons is gone.”
At Mama Lucy, no one was willing to talk to Sunday Nation. At Medical Superintendent Emma Mutio’s office, the secretary directed us on the phone to the deputy medical superintendent. At the deputy’s office, we were directed to the nurse in charge, who also directed us to the hospital administrator, who was not in the office.
“The medical superintendent has asked that if you need any response in regard to Maureen’s case, speak to the Nairobi Metropolitan Service health director,” said her secretary.
At NMS, no one was willing to comment on the matter.
Pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths in the country have been rising. For many families, medical negligence has left an indelible painful mark. One in five Kenyans who walk into a hospital for treatment end up dead or harmed by medics’ mistakes, and about 300,000 women and girls die during pregnancy and childbirth yearly, according to Health ministry data.
The most recently available data from the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey reveal that 362 maternal deaths occur per 100,000 live births.
Data from Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Council show that expectant women filed the highest number of negligence cases against medics.
With data by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) 2021 revealed that 82 per cent which means out of ten deaths, eight deaths could be prevented if midwives were available to everyone.
The most recently available data from the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey estimates that 362 maternal deaths occur per 100,000 live births. At the current estimated annual births, this translates into over 5,000 women and girls dying of pregnancy or birth complications.
Data from Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Council (KMPDC) shows that expectant women filed the highest number of medical negligence cases against medics. Three out of 10 medical negligence cases lodged last year were related to pregnancy, accounting for 27 per cent of the 1,301 complaints the council received since its inception.
Many gynaecologists attributed the high numbers in their area to inadequate personnel and equipment, and lack of access to proper healthcare.