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Former KTN TV host Lorna Irungu succumbs to Covid-19, burial today

Former KTN TV host Lorna Irungu. [Courtesy]

The media fraternity has once again lost one of its greats to the Covid-19 scourge. Lorna Irungu, a media personality and communications heavyweight succumbed to the disease today.

She will be interred on Tuesday, March 23 in a private function, the family has announced.

"The family knows that Lorna is deeply loved by many and asks for your continued prayers and requests privacy during this difficult time but also informs that a public virtual celebration of her life will be organised and details will be communicated shortly. We loved you Lorna but the Lord loved you more," said the family in a statement posted on-line. 

She had just mourned another media personality, Robin Njogu who also died of Covid-19 last week.

“This is heartbreaking. We worked together at Nation and he was always such a stand-up guy. Always ready to help out. RIP my friend,” she wrote a few days ago.

Irungu had a well-documented struggle with lupus, an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks healthy tissue.

Irungu, who was once a KTN producer, was diagnosed with the disease in her early twenties. The disease attacked her kidneys. Kidney disease has been noted as a risk factor for worse Covid-19 outcomes.

She had kidney failure in 1997, then had her first kidney transplant in 1998. She ended up having three kidney transplants within 15 years, the last one being in 2008.

“My first transplant was donated by my father, my second by my sister, my third by my brother. They have been there for me and literally have given (me) back my life,” she said in a Ted Talk.

Her friends set up an organisation called Friends of Lorna to fundraise money for the steep transplant and medication bills.

After the first transplant, she went back to television and radio for a while but then left and then threw herself into the world of corporate communications, eventually becoming Managing Director of the Gina Din group before her death.

Lorna had always been very open about her struggle with lupus, but in an interview, she said that came with people associating her with the disease and she would sometimes get questions such as whether she would be able to handle the workload.

The experience sometimes came with stigma, judgement and affected career opportunities, which she said made her understand why people hid illnesses instead of being as open about it as she was.

From left, Rosemary Kagwi, the secular artist better known as Wahu, Lorna Irungu and Tracy Ombajo, the wife of Big Kev during the "Tembea na Big Kev" fundraising concert held at Carnivore Grounds on February 10, 2017. [Edward Kilimo]

“When you have a chronic illness, people look at you and the first thing they see is an illness. They define you by what they know. Refuse to be that.” she said.

In a Ted talk, Lorna spoke about the life lessons she had learned in the course of her struggle with lupus and kidney failure, first was which information was the key to helping her and anyone else have control in such situations.

“When I was first diagnosed with lupus in 1997, there was no lupus specialist in the region. When my kidneys started failing, I was confused. I needed to know what was happening,” she said.

Through my contacts of friends and family who were abroad, I got in touch with the Lupus Foundation of America and one kind doctor photocopied a book and mailed it to me. It was titled, Lupus and kidney Failure. "And that book saved my life."

The book empowered her with knowledge of medicines she needed and the courses of treatment best suited for her, alongside discussions with her doctors. Armed with information, she was able to use groundbreaking treatments in stem cell research, which were not in use globally by then before going for her second transplant in India.

She was married to Edwin Macharia, who has a background in Public Health and is the Global Managing Partner, at Dalberg Advisors. They have a 12-year-old daughter. Edwin posted a lone heartbreak emoji on Twitter, with an earlier tweet saying, “Today was not a good day.”

From hosting Club Kiboko TV entertainment show to becoming the Gina Din Group Managing Director, Lorna Irungu-Macharia will be remembered as one of Kenya’s media personalities whose life came full circle.

The former KTN presenter and News producer who is also remembered for hosting the Omo-Pick-A-Box show back in the 90s stands out as a resilient fighter who publicly shared her long battle with kidney failure.

During a recent interview with NTV, Irungu opened up on how she dreamed of becoming Kenya’s Christiane Amanpour, a wish that was cut short by heartbreaking circumstances that followed her TV debut.

“I always wanted to be on TV as a News presenter as I was a bit of a serious child. However, I first got into stage acting as I did like theatre and that is how Jimmy Gathu discovered me,” Irungu said during the interview.

Asked why she never ascended to TV News hosting, reluctantly, she alluded that she had already been accorded an entertainment journalist tag and thus wasn’t seen to carry the image of a News anchor.

Unknown to many, Irungu was one of the pioneer actresses at Phoenix Players where she starred in a number of plays among them Fire Razes by Max Frasche, Out of Order by Ray Cooney and Comedy of Errors by William. Shakespeare.

Lorna Irungu (from left) Wangari Nyanjui,Angela Wangari and Clara Williams during the XmasBox Fair at the Marula Manor, Karen, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina]

A fast-rising acting star, she had gone ahead to win a Sh200,000 scholarship by the Kenya Wines Agencies at the youthful age of 22 to become one of the most promising thespians in the country.

Her love for acting had started at an early age after joining the drama club while at Moi Nairobi Girls Secondary School before joining Daystar University where she studied Journalism.

She recalled how in 1989, how as a form two student she got involved in drama, dance and verse before getting her big break in 1991 after, together with four other girls, scripted the play Torn Between that won awards during the secondary school drama festivals finals in Mombasa.

During her last interview with NTV late last year, the 1973-born said after Jimmy Gathu invited her to try a TV hosting job, she was heartbroken after getting the news that she had failed, that to mean she would not get the job.

“Jimmy Gathu did demand and asked that I do another screen test with me and him co-hosting. The recording ended running on TV and that is how I ended up getting the TV job,” she told the host.

And so dear was she to her that when The Standard called him for a comment, he was lost in grief.

“I will...gimme time to get my thoughts together...I’m shattered by her death,” he said.

 Lorna has been a focused media personality who always followed her vision and believed she would see her dreams come true.

Most remembered for hosting the Club Kiboko show on KTN alongside Jimmy Gathu between 1994 and 1999, that after becoming a household name due to her popularity as a presenter of another TV show Omo-Pick-a-Box, Lorna became one of the pioneering entertainment TV presenters. At the time, she was also producing two other shows, Maisha and Niaje.


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