Today, is World Kidney Day.
A day to talk about the diseases that affect the bean-shaped organs on the back of either sides of your spine. The two organs, the size of your fists, that help you urinate, balance the acidity levels of your blood, create hormones and a lot more.
Before last year in October, I had not given much thought to kidneys. It was until I got a story tip about a young lady, Caroline Wangechi Ndiragu who was suffering from a severe form of Kidney disease. End Stage Renal Disease.
I met her in a relative’s home and I was not sure what to say to her. I saw pain and confusion on her face and on her parents. As a journalist, I was there with my pen, notebook and an open mind to learn how it is to live with kidney disease.
The interview led to this article published on The Daily Nation. It was her one week diary, narrating her experience through dialysis where her blood would be mechanically cleaned. It drained her as she hoped for funds to go for a transplant in India, a kidney donated to her by her maternal uncle.
When I asked her what she would like to do once she got her new kidney, she told me: “I would like to drink a glass of Fanta orange soda.”
That stung me. She longed for something that would have otherwise been considered ordinary or even mundane by others. To simply sip Fanta Orange. She could not do it as all the fluid and sugars from it would be retained in her body until the next dialysis session.
Fortunately, after the story ran people sent in their donation in cash, prayers and words of encouragement.
In a months time, November 25; Caroline, her aunt and uncle were India bound. They left for the transplant. I kept in touch through Whatsapp on their time there up to the day Caroline and her uncle were wheeled into the operating room on January 14.
I was overwhelmed: both scared and excited in equal measures. I had read of how people died on the operating tables and honestly, I was not too sure what would happen.
You can imagine my joy when the aunt, Charity, sent me pictures of Caroline and Simon, the uncle from the theater. I cried. I cried some more.
I called her mother, Lydia and shared my relief and all she could tell me was: “My daughter is going to be fine. I don’t know how to thank you Eunice.”
I cried some more.
On March 1, on Sunday, I was in Mombasa when my phone rang in the morning. It was Lydia, Caroline’s mother.
She said: “Caroline will be coming back on Tuesday, March 3. Are you in Nairobi? We would like to have you at the airport.”
I could not get back in time. I was meant to leave Mombasa for the 8 hours drive to Nairobi on Tuesday. They, Caroline’s entourage, would land hours after I set foot in Nairobi.
I replied: “I will not make it, but I will come home to meet you. I will come to see her in a week.”
Six days later, I was travelling to an unknown location, just kept calm by the directions Lydia told me over the phone. Four hours later, I was a top a motor-bike, traversing the stony dusty paths of Chaka in Nyeri County into a little location called Maragema.
And then I saw her. Caroline.
She came out first to meet me. I could not recognise her. She was lighter, plump and jolly.
She jumped up to me before I had descended the roaring motor-bike.
“See, I am fine Eunice. You helped me,” she said leading me into their house. Her mother joined us in a little while and embraced me in tears.
I will not cry here. Not in front of all these people, I said to myself.
To stop the tears I said: ” I bought you Fanta!”
She laughed, her mother joined in, her father jumped in too as well as Simon, the donor and the hero, her aunt Charity and Caroline’s younger brother, Richard. The place turned into a feast. There was talking, eating and drinking of tea and Fanta.
I had never thought in October when I met this family that we would ever meet like this, over 300Kms away from Nairobi. I never thought I would be here among all these people.
“My new kidney from my uncle began working immediately it was put in my body. I can now eat anything. I now eat over five plates of food, six eggs for breakfast and about three litres of water. I have a second chance,” Ms Wangechi said.
Today, as we mark World Kidney Day, I want to celebrate Caroline. I want to celebrate her hope of a second chance and her determination despite the hurdles and challenges of the dialysis. Now, she still has to brace herself for the life long medication she is to take so that her body does not reject her new kidney. Unfortunately, the drugs are quite costly and Caroline’s parents are afraid they may not afford them.
I celebrate the bubbly, energetic young woman who was a shade lighter and plump. This a sharp contrast to the person I spoke to, barely six months back as she struggled with the kidney disease. Her steps were lively and her gait was upright.
I want to celebrate her uncle too. For his sacrifice, love and endurance to see that his niece gets up once more. Talking to him, pickled my curiosity of whether I could ever be a donor. Honestly, I am not sure. I am too scared of pain and blood and hospitals to get through with it, BUT I am thinking about it.
Donors are heroes who risk it all to save a life, at times at the expense of their own.
I also celebrate her family for the strength, hope and trust in God and doctors to heal their only daughter. It has nit been easy. I salute their optimism.
Oh, by the way, in case I did not mention it, Caroline wants to be a nurse. And as my colleague Cornell Ngare said when he found me blogging this, said: Life must now be Fanta for Caroline, and her family. I couldn’t agree more.