By Mwaura Samora
Photo: Aziz being comforted by Babadogo County Rep Shadrack Juma in Agha Khan Hospital where he had just undergone a chemotherapy session.
Our vehicle meanders through the sprawling Korogocho slums, where all the trappings of a low income neighbourhood are in grim display. Food vendors churning barrel-loads of dough being churned to make kaimati, chapati and mandazi, small shops with dark interiors, water selling kiosks and bare-bellied children eagerly running at us.
The “attractions” are many hear to any outsider, which explains why slum tourism have been on the rise in Kenya in the last few years. But today we are not in Korogocho to ogle on how the less fortunate in society lives.
We are here to speak to Abdi Aziz Adan, an eighteen year lad who is suffering from a condition rare among his age mates: cancer. To access his humble abode we go through a corridor of low shanties and a series of corrugated iron sheet gates and entrances.
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The small room is crowded, hot and humid despite the almost chilly weather outside. Sleeping on a wide bed that occupies a large part of the house is an emaciated boy whose sunken eyes, dry lips and tired look tells the tale of his misery in the last twelve months.
“I was going to board a matatu but since it was raining, I slipped and fell, injuring my knee,” Aziz, who is now bedridden, told The Standard. “The pain was so intense that I couldn’t wake up from where I fell. My friends had to carry me home”.
Little did the teenager know that the simple looking knee injury would mark the beginning of a long and painful journey that would claim his limb and life as a budding journalist in Korogocho.
“Since nobody thought It was a serious thing they brought me a kienyeji doctor who kept applying strange concoctions on the swelling, but it showed no improvement,” Aziz, who used to present a show called Watoto wa Mkenya show at the local community radio Koch FM before he started ailing, explained. “After being worked on by the herbalist for about two months, a certain mzungu lady from an Australian agency that works around here came to see me, and after seeing the state of the leg advised me to go to hospital immediately”.
The knee was in such a bad a condition that Mama Lucy Hospital in Kayole, where he was taken first, rejected him and referred his case to Kenyatta National Hospital.
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Immediately after the accident, Aziz had taken an x-ray whose content was never explained to him. When Dr. H.O. Ong’ango, Consultant Orthopedic and Trauma Surgeon at Kenyatta saw the document, Aziz says, he declared the leg wasted from the knee down.
Efforts to get in touch with Dr. Ong’ang’o proved futile since his mobile was either switched off or went unanswered.
An emergency biopsy was booked and the operation slotted in a month’s time from the date of diagnosis.
“The doctors operated the knee and removed a chunk of meat the size of a loaf of bread which they took to a private lab for examinations,” the young man explained. “Dr. Ong’ang’o came back with the devastating news that I had bone cancer and the leg had to be cut immediately before the disease spreads to the upper body”.
While narrating the process through which he lost his limb Aziz lightens up and sounds and looks calm, unshaken, upbeat, optimistic, determined and his belief in the future unshaken.
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“On the first of March, four days before the General Elections, I was wheeled to the theatre, a room that I was by then accustomed to given the fact that I was there a month earlier for the biopsy,” he bravely recalls. “The life changing operation took such a short time. In just one hour, I have lost my right leg. When I came to I felt a strange imbalance on my right side. They were still clearing the surgical mess and one of the medics joked whether they should give me the piece of leg back”.
Aziz says a strong believe in God and the support of his youthful friends from Korogocho and other well wishers have kept him going since losing his limb nine months ago.
“Even after being taken back to the theatre, the doctors were amazed to find me cracking jokes with fellow patients,” says the teenager whose popularity in the slum is attested by the huge number of friends flocking his tiny room. “I am also grateful for my friends who have stood by me in all this by helping fundraise and keep me company”.
After being amputated an Australian donor bought him a prosthetic leg which was to be fixed immediately his heeling. But this was never to be the case since without follow-up chemotherapy the disease apparently spread to the remaining part of his amputated limb.
“The pain came back September, five months after the leg was cut. Before I used clutches to move around but now the remaining part of the limb is swollen and heavy that I am now in bed all the time,” Aziz narrates. “For the last two months, during my visits to Kenyatta they only touch the swollen stump a bit and give me painkillers which were not helping. At that point my friends and family decided to take me to Aga Khan”.
To raise the initial Sh100,000 needed for admission and initial procedures his friends from Korogocho, all of them teenagers and in their early twenties, have come up with ingenious ways of fundraising.
“We have conducted two walks where we go around the neighbourhood and surrounding areas like Kariobangi, Kiamaiko and Babadogo,” explains 20 year-old Victor Ochieng, one of Aziz’s friends who have been meeting daily to brainstorm on how to raise the money. “Besides conducting a harambee at Korogocho Social Hall we have also made two short films Aziz Walking Again and Aziz Needs Help which can be accessed on YouTube”.
He says they have also tried to contact local elected leaders but none have responded so far apart from Shadrack Juma, the neighbouring Babadogo Ward County Rep.
“It was really shocking and agonizing to learn that Aziz had cancer given the fact that he was a young and an energetic lad,” Juma, who worked with the teenager at a local organization called K-Media before venturing into politics, told The Standard. “As a volunteer, he would always teach children in the evening the concept he had learnt during the day at the college he was attending in town”.
The situation triggered the County Rep to invite Family Health Options Kenya (FHOK), a non-governmental organization dealing health matters, to screen women for cervical cancer. Out of the 75 people checked, he says, 15 were turned positive.
By the time we were going to press Aziz’s friends had collected Sh84,444, which was still a shortfall since they needed Sh100,000 for his admission.
“The doctors at Agha Khan have said he will have to undergo ten chemotherapies to kill the cancer cells and reduce the swelling, each of which will cost at least Sh30,000,” explains Idriss Muktar, 21, another member of the Friends of Aziz committee. “After this they will have to cut the remaining bit of the leg and they have said the total cost will be at least Sh700,000, which we are appealing to any well-wishers to help”.
As a member of the Child Peace Africa, a local youth NGO, Aziz painted the shield that the group presented to Chief Justice Dr. Willy Mutunga when he came to celebrate his homecoming in Korogocho after being appointed to head the judiciary.
“Our efforts to contact him and other prominent Kenyans whose early lives are connected to Korogocho for help have been futile,” Victor laments. “But we are thankful to groups like BE Kids Australia who have been very helpful as we appeal for Kenyans of good will to help Aziz walk again”.
Well wishers can help Aziz Walk Again campaign through Mpesa number 0713130383 or Equity Bank account number 0320198904289 under the mother’s name Asha Boru.
In his current situation the young man is completely dependent on his mother Asha Buru who assists him perform basic human functions like bathing and going to the toilet.
“Since Aziz lost his leg I have been doing everything for him, from bathing him using a wet cloth soaked in soapy water to bringing him the potty in the house whenever he wants to relieve himself,” his mother says. “I usually sell perfumes and shukas in the neighbourhoods in the situation have greatly hampered my ability to work”.
The mother of six says this is not helped by the fact that she has issues with Aziz’s father with whom they are currently separated.
After the heavily swollen stamp is shrunk through chemo and cut, the lad will need to get a prosthetic limb that will be fixed from the groin.
“The doctors told me that there are some Koreans at Kikuyu who make special artificial legs,” Aziz explained. “This gives me the hope that I will walk again and go back to the studio at Koch FM to do my programme and other community work that I enjoy so much”.
Reached for comments, the doctors from Aga Khan were very cautious saying that it was too early to speculate on whether the situation was worsened by negligence or late diagnosis.
“He has just started his treatment and I don’t have any medical reports from Kenyatta on what kind of treatment he got from there, so for now I can’t really comment on this situation,” Dr. Wafula Khamala from Aga Khan told The Standard on phone. “May be as the treatment progresses we will be able to get more information”.