Peter King’ori, 33, discovered he had liver complications in 2011 after gallbladder removal surgery.
After being put on medication to manage the condition, his health took a nose dive in 2015, and his family decided to seek a second opinion in India.
“After the tests, doctors in India told me the only solution was a liver transplant. They explained the procedure, the documents needed, and that the donor had to be a close relative,” recounts King’ori.
The procedure itself would cost Sh4.5 million, but the total costs would run to almost Sh8 million, including drugs and accommodation.
But before he could even think about where the money would come from, King’ori had to find a donor.
However, this turned out to be the easy part after his youngest sister, Ruth Ndegwa, who was 24 at the time, stepped up.
If a part of her liver could save her brother’s life, she was happy to donate it to him.
“It was a no-brainer for me. My family was going through a very tough time and the only way I could help was by being the donor. Also, my parents were over 54 years old, and I did not want my elder sister to go through the operation,” says Ruth.
I only feared injections
Even though, like many other Kenyans, she did not understand the entire organ donation and transplant process, Ruth bit the bullet and braced for the procedure.
Her only fear back then was that the doctors would give her an injection.
She still laughs about it today.
“I was more scared for my brother than for me. I had the minutest fears like not wanting an injection. I mean this was a life-changing surgery, but my fear was an injection!” she says with a laugh.
Years later, Ruth still laughs at the many myths and fears that Kenyans have about organ donation and transplant.
“There are a lot of discouraging myths out there,” she says.
“When someone discovers that you are donating an organ, they start projecting their fears on you. Some discourage you while others avoid you. But doctors assured me that everything was going to be okay,” she recounts.
Initially, the family was only able to raise Sh2.5 million from relatives, friends and through fundraisers.
“We are grateful that we were able to get the funds. People contributed as little as Sh200; their generosity was heartwarming,” recounts Ruth.
With the Sh2.5 million, the family decided to send King’ori, Ruth and their mother, Margaret Ndegwa, to India to start the process.
Ruth’s elder sister, Lilian Wangare, stayed back to look for more funds.
But before proceeding to India, doctors first had to confirm that King’ori and Ruth’s livers were compatible. The tests were repeated during the first two weeks in India and therapy sessions initiated.
Before the procedure, Indian government officials visited the hospital to ascertain that Ruth and King’ori were indeed siblings. If they had not been, there would have been trouble.
“We had legal documents from Kenya to prove we were siblings, and that ours was not a case of organ trade. We had birth certificates to prove that we had the same parents, and photos from our childhood and adulthood that we took together,” recounts Ruth.
There was a small hitch though when Ruth developed a fever. The surgery had to be rescheduled.
“They stopped everything. Those doctors were meticulous,” Ruth recounts.
How it was done
Finally, the transplant took place on Monday, August 8, 2016, at 6am. By the time it was over, doctors had replaced King’ori’s liver with 67 percent of Ruth’s.
This is how it was done.
The surgeons first operated on Ruth, removing a portion of her liver for transplant. The operation took 14 hours.
The surgeons then operated on King’ori and removed his diseased liver, replacing it with Ruth’s healthy portion. They then connected blood vessels and bile ducts to the new liver. This operation took 19 hours.
After surgery, Ruth was wheeled to a recovery room opposite King’ori’s. It was highly sterilised. Only their mother, nurses, and doctors were allowed access.
Ruth fully woke up from surgery the following day at 10am. It was only then that the enormity of what she had just done hit her - she had donated a vital part of her body to her brother, and by so doing, saved his life.
“I knew something major had happened. I just wanted to sleep and recover so I did not understand why they kept checking my blood pressure and other vital organs,” she recounts.
She says apart from the post-surgery pain in the first week after the surgery, she was fine. Her recovery was easier than her brother’s.
King’ori’s recovery was not a walk in the park. But the sacrifice made by his sister lying in the room opposite his in the Indian hospital, and indeed, the entire family, kept him going.
“Whenever I thought of my younger sister I soldiered on. I am alive because of her. I celebrate two birthdays every year because of her. My initial birthday and the second chance at life that she gave me,” he says.
He also attributes the success of the transplant to enormous family support.
“My mother was our pillar. I know it was hard for her because I can’t imagine the fear she had, having two children undergoing surgery at the same time. My aunt also came to India to see us through,” he says.
Although he will be on medication for the rest of his life and is very cautious with his day-to-day activities and diet, King’ori says the transplant saved his life.
As for Ruth, it is now four years since she donated part of her liver to her brother. She says her body does not feel any different.
Says she: “I am as good as new.”If you didn't have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?