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My ‘kidney baby’ symbol of hope for thousands

Health & Science
 Millicent Njeri with her son Raymond King‘ara. She went through a kidney transplant three years ago. [PHOTO: WILBERFORCE OKWIRI/STANDARD]

When man loses hope, there ceases to be any reason to live. And many people give up along their life journey. But not so for Millicent Njeri, a young mother who has tens of reasons to live.

Ms Njeri carries the hope of more than 8,000 Kenyans who require expensive dialysis at least twice a week to keep them going.

Having had kidney complications for one and a half decades, Njeri has had to endure numerous hospital visits to eliminate accumulated waste.

After all the past struggle, she now enjoys good health and peace of mind. Not even the rigorous tests and procedures can put her down.

Three years ago, the 26-year-old woman underwent a kidney transplant. And as if to inspire those with kidney complications, she gave birth to now five-month-old Raymond King’ara, who she fondly refers to as her “kidney miracle”.

“Raymond represents my struggle with kidney failure and is a symbol of hope that transplant patients can enjoy fulfilling lives,” says Njeri. About four million Kenyans have a form of kidney disease and about 8,000 queue for dialysis at least twice a week.

Medical journey

Njeri’s kidney problems began in 2000, and when the chronic kidney disease set in years later, doctors advised her to avoid being pregnant a second time because her kidneys could not handle more pressure.

“I had already given birth to my first born child, Marian Wothaya. Even though the weekly dialysis made me weak, I desired to be mother again,” Njeri tells The Standard on Saturday.

On January 2013, the youthful mother underwent a kidney transplant at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in New Delhi, India.

Not long after, an innate desire to get a second child was re-ignited, but doctors advised she observes a window-period of one to two years before she could conceive.

Today, her heart warms up whenever she speaks about a medical journey that covered dialysis, kidney transplant, recovery, pregnancy and a second time birth. “I am grateful to my sister Jane Wangechi, who not only gave me a kidney but also gave me a second lease of life.

This enabled me to have a trouble-free pregnancy and become a mother a second time,” says Njeri.

Her husband, Raphael King’ara, cited the need to tell the patient’s kidney story - one that began from a gloomy and desperate place to a hopeful and joyful one after a successful kidney transplant. “It has been a tough yet gratifying journey.

We are grateful that Njeri is healthy and a dedicated mother and wife,” says Mr King’ara, a Prisons Officer at Kamiti Medium Prison.

He urges families facing kidney health issues to speak out for therapeutic purposes.

The first reported successful pregnancy occurred in a recipient of a kidney transplant received from an identical twin sister and performed by Dr John Dossetor in Canada 1958.

Njeri not only feels privileged to have both familial and medical support that saw her through the pregnancy and birth of her son, but is now ignited to be an ambassador of hope for women in similar predicament.

“Even though I have to take anti-rejection drugs twice a day, that is a small price to pay for being a mother and staying healthy,” she says.

Kidney Specialist Anthony Were says patients with chronic kidney disease have difficulties getting pregnant due to poor kidney function, but fertility is improved within months of successful replacement of the sick organ through a transplant.

Optimal timing

“Fertility is restored. However, it is not advisable to get pregnant immediately after the transplant because the body is riddled with too many drugs that could lead to an abortion or even foetal complications,” says Dr Were.

According to Dr Were, the optimal timing of pregnancy depends on individual circumstances of the transplant recipient and professional assessment by her doctor, although international guidelines recommend that one waits for at least a year or two.

Dr Were calls for routine medical consultations for couples that seek to get pregnant after a kidney transplant so that specialists can prescribe non-toxic drugs and monitor the pregnancy to term to ensure both mother and child are healthy at the end of the nine-month journey.

According to Dr Were, the expectant mother has to be on anti-rejection medicines for the rest of her life. She is required to switch to less toxic options during pregnancy while also guarding against losing the ‘new’ kidney.

“Optimal counseling and clinical management should be offered especially to the woman after a transplant to ensure that the ‘new’ kidney supports the pregnancy and that anti-rejection drugs do not harm the unborn baby and that high blood pressure does not develop,” says Dr Were.

There are no specific recommendations for male transplant recipients on fathering a child.

And whereas a vaginal delivery is possible, Dr Were notes that a Caesarean section delivery is recommended for women who have had kidney transplants.

Dr Were advises that the decision to get pregnant should be done under the guidance of a kidney specialist and a reproductive health expert in order to guard against complications that may harm both mother and the foetus.

Njeri is determined to speak about her renewed hope to all those discouraged by kidney disease. “I do not take my life for granted,” she adds.

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