What you need to know:
- Twice a week for four hours, he went for dialysis. Every month, the family spent more than Sh100, 000 on treatment.
- At the hospital, the surgery cost Sh450,000 for the recipient and Sh150,000 for the donor. This was covered by the National Health Insurance Fund.
- However, after the surgery, the family has to take care of the post-transplant bills.
“I will forever be grateful to my uncle who has since given me a new life and a reason to live again,” an emotional Cyrus Waweru Karanja said when the Sunday Nation visited the Kenyatta National Hospital yesterday.
Living a normal life until the age of nine, Cyrus, now 12, became ever sick. The parents tried many hospitals in search of an answer to his illness and for years, many treated him for different infections.
In April 2019, Cyrus was diagnosed with failure of both kidneys. They were by then staying in Mombasa, and the dialysis journey was not an easy one. This forced his parents to relocate to Nairobi to be closer to home, Limuru.
For three-and-a-half years, Cyrus went for his dialysis in one of the high-end private hospitals in the capital city. This drained the family financially to an extent that they held three harambees to help finance his medication. They did not meet their target.
Twice a week for four hours, he went for dialysis. Every month, the family spent more than Sh100, 000 on treatment.
For some time, dialysis did not work. He was in pain. On and off hospitals. For the better part of his hospital admissions, his maternal uncle James Gitau, 25, was the one taking care of him.
Most of the nights he watched as his nephew convulsed and writhed in pain. When not in pain, the duo could be spotted watching football and playing games on the phone.
However, his situation worsened. His doctor recommended a kidney transplant as the only way to save the young man's life
Dialysis filters your blood through your body and removes waste when your kidneys are failing.
Once one starts treatment, it’s done weekly depending on the doctor’s prescription. And people who don’t have a kidney transplant, must be on dialysis for the rest of their lives.
Ms Ruth Karanja, Cyrus’ mother then informed her family and requested her immediate follower to donate a kidney to his son. “He has never gotten back to me to date even after promising to think about my request,” she said
Having been on the journey with Cyrus, and seeing how he suffered, Gitau volunteered to donate one of his kidneys to his best friend.
However, this was met with a lot of objections from family members, friends and even the girlfriend.
He did not listen to any of them; all he wanted was to save the young man the agony of struggling to survive a day at a time.
“I love children and given that we both love football, this connected us. I wanted to save Cyrus' life from the frequent pains,” says Gitau, who on October 12, successfully donated one of his kidneys to Cyrus.
First, he broke the news to his mother who later informed the family members. Most of them did not welcome the idea citing a possible risk
He later informed his girlfriend who questioned why he was the one chosen. His friends also discouraged him and had negative things to say about the process but he did not listen to them.
Given that he is a football coach, they were afraid that he would not manage to play which may derail his dreams.
“Why you, why don’t they look for someone else from your family? You are still very young and you don’t know what the future holds for you,” one of his friends told him.
When the surgery day was approaching, Gitau deactivated WhatsApp and Facebook apps from his phone. He was receiving discouraging messages from friends and family members not to take part in the procedure.
“I was only receiving calls and only from numbers that encouraged me. I blocked everyone. It was me and my God,” says James. The process to make him a proper medical match for Cyrus began.
At the hospital, they met Nancy Wangombe, the transplant coordinator, the renal unit department, who took them through the process. A counselling session was scheduled.
“This is a complicated process, not like treating the usual illnesses. The recipient and the donor have to be taken through vigorous counselling to understand what the process is all about, the cost and the adjustment required for both parties after the surgery,” says Ms Wangombe.
Once done, a thorough pre-transplant exam and tests are done for both the recipients and donor whether they are compatible.
To be a living kidney donor, the blood group must match and be between the ages of 18 and 69 with no history of infection, heart or liver diseases including cirrhosis and hepatitis B and C, diabetes, HIV, and cancers that could cause problems during surgery.
There are also chest X-rays, a check on the functionality of each individual kidney, and the structures of the vessels checked by surgeons.
“We have images, blood wax compatibility tests and immunological tests (done at the end to tell the drugs that the patient will use),” she says.
At Kenyatta National Hospital, the tests cost about Sh200, 000.
Once the test process is done, then a multidisciplinary team of specialists meet. The recommendation is done and surgery dates are scheduled.
All was well for both Cyrus and Gitau and the surgery was scheduled for October 12. They were admitted a week before to run the last tests
Admitted in different wards, every morning, Gitau would check on Cyrus and give him hope that they are going to make it.
“What actually kept me going is the fact that Cyrus was ever happy that I was going to give him a kidney. I had no reason to back out,” he said
On the surgery day, Gitau purposely went to Cyrus to inform him that he was ready and that they were on the journey together.
A few minutes to 6 am, he was wheeled to the theatre. A few minutes later, Cyrus was wheeled and given that the surgeries ran concurrently, the process took seven hours.
At around 1 pm, they were both wheeled to the recovery rooms.
Dr Mburugu Gitobu told the Sunday Nation that this was one of the surgeries that did so well. The kidney started working immediately it was planted
Two teams of specialists worked on the two. They first harvested the kidney from the donor while the anaesthetist was preparing the baby. The child was then opened up normally in the pelvis on the right side and his vessels that go to the legs and supply the legs on the pelvis with blood were identified.
“The kidney was picked from the implanting team, then washed with cold water and cold electrolytes solution so that it gets rid of all the blood and was preserved because when left warm it gets bad and may not work. The kidney was then transplanted.”
He continued: “If you are lucky the kidney starts working immediately and producing urine. This is what happened with Cyrus,” Dr Gitobu said.
At the hospital, the surgery cost Sh450,000 for the recipient and Sh150,000 for the donor. This was covered by the National Health Insurance Fund. However, after the surgery, the family has to take care of the post-transplant bills.
The cost, according to Ms Wangombe, is about Sh30,000 per month for the drugs given to lower the immunity and test to monitor the functionality of the kidney and clinics fees.
“Once a transplant is done, the body knows that there is a foreign body and it is waiting to fight it. There are drugs given to lower the immunity,” she said.
After the surgery, the patients are followed up for four months to ensure that the new kidney is working, the original disease is controlled, the complications brought by the medications are okay and minor complications treated
The hospital since 2013 through a programme launched by Kenya Commercial Bank Foundation has experience in transplanting children.
Cyrus is the tenth child that has had a kidney transplant at the hospital.
“This is not your usual operation. Working on 12-year-olds and below is not an easy surgery but our team is experienced, we have done so far 10 successful surgeries,” said Ms Wangombe.
“Dialysis was incapacitating Cyrus because he needed to have it three times a week. He was getting weak and weak. He is doing well and we are still following him up,” she said.
“I can never thank my uncle more, and enough, for everything he’s done,” said Cyrus.