Teenager on recovery path after cut hand is reattached

Joseph Theuri holding a chaff cutter that cut his hand. The hand is recovering well, after he underwent surgery at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) four months ago. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]
Doctors have advised him to minimise movement of his reattached hand until they give him the nod. However, 17-year-old Joseph Theuri can’t help but do some work at home.

Theuri says he still goes around the compound moving this and that using his left hand. He is not using the replanted hand, which has just started regaining sensation. 

He is now able to move his thumb.

Doctors said he would regain full sensation in the injured hand nine months after he was discharged from hospital.

It was in January when a chaff cutter chopped off Theuri’s hand at their home in Kihara, Kiambu County. He had just finished feeding the cows when he decided to clean the machine.

Theuri was taken to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) where surgeons successfully reattached the hand. The announcement awed Kenyans, who could not believe such a procedure was possible in the country.

“I woke up normally. It was just another ordinary day. I did not anticipate anything as bad as this,” Theuri says of the day he lost his hand.

He says he went about feeding the cows as he normally did. Around midday, he decided to clean the chaff cutter housed in a small room at the back of the house.

There had been a power blackout and it emerged that an employee had forgotten to switch off power to the chaff cutter. Theuri did not notice the switch was still on.

When the power returned, the chaff cutter started turning at high speed. Before Theuri could move, his hand was gone, cut off at the wrist.

“When the hand was cut off, it fell on the other side of the cutter. I instinctively picked it up and threw it to the ground to ensure that it did not go through the machine again,” says Theuri.

“My mind went blank. I felt no pain in that moment. I just stood there not knowing what to do. So many thoughts went through my mind.”

He says he was jerked back to reality when Grace, his three-year-old sister, who was alarmed by what had just happened, asked why he did not have a hand.

He then rushed to the house where a family member wrapped the stump in a piece of cloth. Theuri says he walked towards the roads without knowing where he was going.

Theuri’s guardian, Virginia Kamau, says she was not home when the accident happened.

Neighbours called

“I have a clinic here but at the time of the accident, I was away. So when neighbours called to tell me what had happened, I directed them to a hospital in Kiambu,” says Ms Kamau.

It was a good Samaritan, Josephine Wanjiru, who drove Theuri to St Paul’s Hospital in Gachie, then to another hospital in Kiambu town.

In the midst of the ensuing panic and confusion, Theuri says he did not carry the chopped off hand. Someone had to go back for it.

It was at the hospital in Kiambu where doctors realised the hand was still alive and could actually be reattached. They placed it in a portable freezer before referring Theuri to KNH.

“We had informed KNH we were going there and briefed them on the nature of injury so they could prepare for the surgery,” says Kamau.

Theuri says he only remembers the shock he suffered after the accident.

“I was scared at the prospect of being an amputee. I imagined how hard life would be without my right hand. You know men are supposed to work and provide, and without the right hand, that would be difficult,” he says.

“The surgery took seven hours, starting 10pm. I immediate felt my thumb after the surgery, which was a major relief for me.”

The seven-hour microvascular surgery was the first successful hand reattachment in sub-Saharan Africa, according to KNH officials.

Theuri went on to stay in hospital for two months as doctors monitored his progress. He was discharged on March 26.

Heart-wrenching as his story is, Theuri tells it with humour and courage.

He reaches for his phone, masterfully swiping through his gallery with his left hand to show pictures of the recovering limb as it was following the accident.

And with every picture, Theuri pauses to give an explanation. Among other photos, there is one of the cut hand in the freezer box and another when it was freshly stitched.

He says his friends doubted he would ever recover the use of his hand.

And it is not easy to tell that Theuri is an orphan. The jovial teenager refers to Kamau as “Mum” and their relationship conceals that fact even more.

Theuri was born in Oloitokotok. His mother died while he was still young and not long after, his father also died. Theuri and his older brother were raised by their grandmother.

“The only memories I have of my parents come from what I have been told. I was told their names and shown their pictures and so I know what they look like,” Theuri says with just a tinge of sadness.

But he has not seen his brother in years.

Brother adopted

“His brother was adopted by someone else but Theuri stays with me. They have lost touch, they have no form of communication,” Kamau reveals.

As part of the recovery process, Theuri attends physiotherapy sessions at KNH three times a week. And he is scheduled to begin counselling sessions from next week.

“He is always happy but because of what happened, I felt he needed counselling,” says Kamau.

He confesses that it is easy to be consumed by negative thoughts.

“I can’t do much work right now. My mum does most of the things I used to do. I have plenty of time to recover. I try not to think too much and avoid negative thoughts as much as I can.”

Although KNH and well-wishers paid the entire Sh7 million hospital bill for the surgery, Theuri still has to pay between Sh600 and Sh1,200 for physiotherapy and to have his wound cleaned and dressed.

Initially, doctors estimated that the hand would return to normal between six months and a year. But Theuri says the progress is good and the pain has reduced significantly.

The nerves in the hand have started working and soon, the finger nerves will also be functional.

Theuri went to school up to Standard Three. He has not been in school since 2013.

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