A simple flu, cancer and death: the story of Dennis Omondi

Dennis Omondi and his wife Nancy Mwanza during his stay in hospital. He died of acute leukemia. [Courtesy]
Journalist Dennis Omondi was initially being treated for a flu that wouldn't just go away last year.

Seven months later, and with cancer diagnosis coming late, Omondi was dead and is being buried tomorrow.

“He has never been admitted to a hospital. The only people who have been sick in my house is me and the children. Not Dennis,” says Nancy Mwanza, his wife.

For the better part of December 2017, the Weru TV journalist complained of persistent flu, which he took medication for.

When conventional medicine seemed not to work, he resorted to natural remedies made of lemon and honey.

When he returned to the city from his rural home in Busia on December 27, he said he ‘felt some signs of malaria.’

He went to the nearest facility closer to where he stayed in Athi River and he was attended to. This also did not work.

By January this year, his symptoms of flu and fever were persistent and so he returned to the same hospital for a more elaborate check. He was informed that his blood had bacteria and antibiotics were prescribed for him.

“Then I noticed some swelling at the back of his neck. It would move if you touch it. Though it was not painful, for precaution, I asked him to go back and get checked,” says Nancy.

At the same facility, a biopsy was done-but he never went back for the results due in two weeks. This is because his boss, at West TV referred him to a renowned haematologist at Kenyatta National Hospital, Prof Walter Mwanda.

That day he went for a test, Omondi walked to the facility by himself, only for him to text his wife late in the afternoon he had been diagnosed with leukemia, cancer of the blood, and he had been admitted for two weeks.

“Throughout the day, I kept asking him what has the doctor said, but he instead asked me if I am home, and if I have picked the child from school. This was the most shocking news in my life,” narrates Nancy.

According to Omondi’s brother, Gabriel Musundi the family did not want to risk having him treated locally. With this in mind, the hospital gave them two options, Israel and South Africa.

“But the quotation for both was Sh12 million. We could not afford it. That is why we chose India because it was not only less expensive (Sh7 million) but also the person who referred us had leukemia back in 2013 and he was treated and is well,” said Musundi.

Preparations were made and on February 6, Musundi accompanied his brother to Apollo Hospital in India. There he underwent three cycles of chemotherapy, where the first one was 21 days with a break of ten days.

But after the second cycle, money ran out-which forced the journalist to do an appeal which went viral and raised Sh4 million-and he resumed a third cycle.

“But after the cycle, the cancer cells in his blood were between 15 and 17 per cent (from almost 100 per cent). This was still too high. The doctors expected less than seven per cent so that there will be no need for a bone marrow transplant,” said Musundi.

A bone marrow allows new development of cells in the body as it contains stem cells, which are capable of giving rise to multiple cells.

A file photo of Dennis Omondi. [Courtesy]
The news was even more devastating after it turned out that none of Omondi’s four brothers could provide a match which ranged between 39 and 65 per cent. What was needed was something close to 100 per cent if not exact.

Since Musundi was the one with the highest match probability (65 per cent), they were informed that an attempt can be made for a transplant, which is known as a mismatched transplant.

Parents (fathers) are usually the perfect donors of bone marrow, but in Omondi's case, his father died in 1997.

“But that would cost another Sh7 million and he would have to stay in hospital for at least a year. We could not afford that. So we chose to take drugs and come back home to continue with chemotherapy,” said Musundi.

Omondi was then admitted at KNH on his return on June 11 and seven weeks later he was dead. “That Friday he woke up by himself, showered and had breakfast but at noon, he just suddenly changed, by 3pm he was dead.”

According to Prof Mwanda, while there are two types of leukemia, cancer of the blood, if one is diagnosed with acute type-the other being chronic which takes long to treat-the most time they may have is just three weeks.

“The cancer goes downhill very fast. Within weeks if nothing is done you will be gone. Of course one may stay longer depending on what kind of intervention is made,” says Mwanda.

He however insists that patients should ‘seek to be well by all means from different doctors as long as they are more experienced than those handling them at the time.

“Unfortunately we do not have so many means (to get well),” he says.

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