My ailing heart, don’t give out

Abdullahi Wako Dida (pictured), 56, battled heart failure for 13 years without a proper diagnosis and on wrong medication. By Agnes Aineah

I started getting sick some time in the year 2000 when I worked at a city bank. It started with swelling in my legs, extreme fatigue and shortness of breath. Both legs would swell whenever I sat in the same position for more than two hours. My movement was also affected and I started having difficulties lifting my left leg when walking. I would also sweat profusely even when it was cold, regardless of what time of the day it was.

Whenever I felt any of these symptoms, I visited the bank’s staff clinics where nurses gave me drugs to manage my condition. It was a time that little was known about heart disease. Though the nurses hinted on the possibility that I had a heart problem, none could refer me to any place that I could get confirmatory tests.

I was still working at the bank when I checked myself into one of the big hospitals in Nairobi with very swollen legs and with a nagging pain in my neck. I was experiencing shortness of breath and I couldn’t further push myself at work. The doctors said that my heart was ‘heavy’. But because the hospital didn’t have specialised technologies to test for heart complications, nothing was done to establish the amount of damage in my heart. And so from early 2000 till only recently, I have been on the wrong medication.

As years went by, my condition deteriorated and the bank was forced to let me go towards the end of 2008, citing my poor health and consistent absence from work. In my dismissal letter, I was reminded of how I had only worked for five days in eight months. From the time I started getting sick in 2000, I had been away from work for about three solid years. My departure from the bank marked my turmoil as I could no longer access the expensive medication I got at the bank’s staff clinics. It also struck me that I could also not provide for my children. I was their sole parent as my wife had died in the course of my illness.

Finally relief

In June this year, I went to The Mater Hospital when I thought I was going to die. I was suffering from a sharp pain in the left side of my chest and I felt a heaviness in my heart as if I was carrying a heavy load. My difficulties in breathing had evolved into a constant feeling of suffocation. The pain in my neck had also intensified and I had some stiffness from the neck all the way to my chest. I had emptied my savings  in managing my illnesses yet nothing was working.

A diagnosis at The Mater Hospital revealed blockages in three of the blood vessels of my heart. Doctors explained that while two vessels had 90 per cent blockages, the third vessel was 100 per cent damaged. They said the first two vessels could be operated on at the hospital to remove the blockages at a cost of Sh1.5 million. The totally damaged one, however, the one that runs into the interior part of my heart where it disappears completely to the puzzlement of medics, required an open heart surgery in India to correct it. I needed Sh3 million for the surgery in India. I was told my diabetes and high blood pressure had affected my blood flow and caused the life threatening complications in my veins. I can’t afford the treatments, but in the meantime, I have made some lifestyle changes. I quit smoking nearly eight years ago, don’t eat nyama choma anymore and I avoid fatty parts of meat and white bread. I also try to walk very slowly to keep fit. Due to shortness of breath, I can’t walk fast.  

It is a lot easier for a Muslim to resign to their fate than turn into a beggar. But I have been forced to go around seeking financial aid for the sake of my two children who are now 17 and 12. I know I can’t afford the expensive three surgeries to treat my heart failure and that that is why I have been going around asking for help. So far, I have received several donations towards my very expensive drugs I am taking. For a month’s medication, I spend Sh115,000. I take nine types of drugs in the morning and four at night. Some of these drugs are to manage my blood pressure and my diabetes. I am also on insulin which costs Sh2,250 every month.

All you need to know about coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease is the narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels in the heart, usually because of a build-up of cholesterol and fatty deposits on the inner walls of the vessels. These vessels, responsible for supplying the heart with blood, oxygen and nutrients become damaged.

The decreased blood flow may cause chest pain, shortness of breath, or other heart disease symptoms. A complete blockage can cause a heart attack.


·         Smoking

·         High blood pressure

·         High cholesterol

·         Diabetes or insulin resistance

·         Sedentary lifestyle

·         Risk factors

They include the following

·         Getting older increases the risk of narrowed arteries

·         Family history of heart diseases

·         Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of arteries

·         Overweight or obesity

·         High levels of cholesterol in the blood

·         Type 2 diabetes

·         Unrelieved stress

·         Heavy alcohol use can lead to heart muscle damage


They include the following

·         Pain, pressure or tightness on the middle or left side of the chest

·         Shortness of breath

·         Extreme fatigue


The above symptoms may escalate into the following complications

·         Heart failure where the heart becomes too weak to pump blood

·         Heart attack in the case of a completely blocked coronary. Symptoms of a heart attack include crushing pressure in your chest and pain in your shoulder or arm, sometimes with shortness of breath and sweating.

·         Abnormal heart rhythm


It involves lifestyle changes, drugs and certain procedures.

·         Various drugs can be used to treat coronary artery disease according to the doctor’s prescriptions.

·         Medications can break up artery clots and can reduce heart damage, widen blood vessels, decrease pain and help regulate heart rhythm.

·         In severe cases, bypass surgery is performed to restore the heart’s blood supply.

Lifestyle changes to prevent coronary artery disease

They include the following

·         Quit smoking

·         Control conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes

·         Stay physically active

·         Eat a low-fat, low-salt diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains

·         Maintain a healthy weight

·         Reduce and manage stress

·         Go for regular medical checkups for risk factors that have no symptoms in the early stages. Early detection and treatment can set the stage for a lifetime of better heart health.