Journalist Dennis Omondi was initially being treated for a flu that wouldn’t just go away. That was in 2017. Seven months later, and with a cancer diagnosis coming late, Omondi is dead.
He was buried yesterday in Bundasi, Butula, in Busia County. “He had never been admitted to a hospital. It is only the children and I who have been sick in my house. Not Dennis,” says Nancy Mwanza, his wife.
For the better part of December 2017, the Weru TV journalist complained of a persistent flu, for which he took medication.
When conventional medicine seemed not to work, he resorted to natural remedies made from lemon and honey. When he returned to the city from his rural home in Busia on December 27 last year, he said he “felt some signs of malaria”.
He went to a health facility in Athi River and was attended to. This also did not work. By January, his symptoms of flu and fever were persistent, 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, I asked him to go back and get checked,” Nancy says.
At the same facility, a biopsy was done, but he never went back for the results that were due in two weeks. His boss at had referred him to Walter Mwanda, a renowned haematologist at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).
The day he went for a test, Omondi walked to the facility by himself, only for him to text his wife late in the afternoon that he had been diagnosed with leukemia, cancer of the blood, and had been admitted for two weeks.
“Throughout the day, I kept asking him what the doctor was saying, but he instead asked me if I was already at home and whether I had 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 or South Africa.
“But the quotation for both was Sh12 million. We could not afford it. So we chose India because it was not only less expensive (Sh7 million). The person who referred us had leukemia back in 2013 and he was treated and is well,” Musundi says.
Preparations were made and on February 6, Musundi accompanied his brother to Apollo Hospital in India. He was here for 10 days. But after the second cycle of treatment, they ran out of money forcing the journalist to send out an appeal for help. Kenyans responded swiftly, raising Sh4 million for him to resume 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 there would be no need for a bone marrow transplant,” Musundi says.
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.
It turned out that none of Omondi’s four brothers could provide a bone marrow 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 could be made for a transplant, known in medical terms as a mismatched transplant.
Parents (fathers) are usually the perfect donors of bone marrow, but Omondi’s father had died in 1997.
“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 come back home to continue with chemotherapy,” Musundi says.
Omondi was then admitted at KNH on his return on June 11. Seven weeks later, he was dead. “That Friday, he woke up, showered and had breakfast. But at noon, he suddenly changed. By 3pm he was dead,” Musundi says.
According to Prof Mwanda, while there are two types of leukemia, if one is diagnosed with acute type - the other being chronic which takes long to treat - the most they may have is just three weeks.
“The cancer goes downhill very fast. You will be gone within weeks if nothing is done. Of course one may stay longer depending on what kind of intervention is made,” Mwanda says.
He however insists that patients should seek to be well by all means. “Unfortunately we do not have so many means (to get well)”.