From the age of five, Victor Emitati began experiencing severe headaches that couldn’t go away even after medication.
The pain disappeared when he turned seven and his parents, Beatrice Nafula, a nurse, and Livingstone Osore, a primary school teacher, were relieved. But their joy was short-lived.
“His birth was normal. There was no sign that he was in distress but he cried a lot and we never suspected anything,” Nafula recalled Victor’s birth 23 years ago.
“But as the crying persisted and the fever continued, I knew something was amiss.”
But numerous hospital visits and test results yielded nothing.
“It was draining mentally and financially. We had sleepless nights, taking turns to comfort the crying baby,” she recalled.
When Victor turned nine, the headaches were accompanied by convulsions, lasting five to ten minutes, at least once a month.
The parents decided to seek expert opinion and in July, 2008 a doctor said a head scan had revealed a mass of tissue on Victor’s left side. It was dangerous and required urgent surgery.
He said Victor suffered from Pilocytic Astrocytoma (PA) - an abnormal slow-growing type of a primary central nervous system (CNS) tumour.
Victor chips in how by Standard Three he was more in hospital than at home, and classmates often teased him about his frequent absenteeism.
“My classmates thought I hated school. They nicknamed me ‘mama’s boy’,” he said.
His mother often dropped and picked him from school due to the frequent headaches. Sometimes he could not move or say a word.
He first had a major brain surgery to remove the tumour that was causing the severe headaches and convulsions. Two other surgeries followed later on.
Though the surgeries were a success, Victor still experienced convulsions and a couple of MRA tests showed the tumour bled during its removal.
“The treatment was relatively expensive as it was done in a private hospital. The family had no money.
“We held a fundraiser to meet the cost of the first operation,” says Osore, adding that during the first three months, they knocked on doors, called friends and relatives to help them raise funds.
“As the father figure, I was expected to be bold, but I would break down a couple of times. Victor needed immediate medical attention after that and we did not have a way out,” he said.
The first operation was successfully done in October 2008 and another a month later.
“We were advised to do MRIs every month to keep track of his health. Each MRI cost an average of Sh20,000, money we did not readily have,” added Nafula.
Victor pulled through and sat for his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) in 2012. He joined a secondary school near his home for easier monitoring.
But the headaches began all over again in 2014 when Victor was in Form Two and a subsequent CT scan showed signs of recurrence of Pilocytic Astrocytoma.
“One day, he convulsed five times and doctors said it caused brain damage and other neural complications. I didn’t think my son would be okay,” recalled the mother.
“I cried a lot but a counsellor friend played a great role in counselling me. I was mentally unwell and was at one time nearly knocked down by a car in Nairobi,” she said.
Victor had hi third surgery at the Kenyatta National Hospital. The bill totaled Sh4.5 million.
Despite his tribulation, Victor finally graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Medical Laboratory Science at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and became a lab technologist.
He assists physicians in diagnosing, monitoring, treating and preventing diseases.
Beware of headaches lasting more than a week
Astrocytomas causes irritability to the brain hence the headaches and seizures as they are foreign bodies, according to a neurosurgeon.
Dr Lee Ogutha, also a lecturer at Maseno University School of Medicine, explained that astrocytomas are types of fluid-filled tumours with no particular known cause. Composed of growing cells, astrocytomas are often detected in younger people compared to adults.
Dr Ogutha said astrocytomas can be successfully removed surgically as they are benign but the possibility of recurrence depends on their location in the brain and how well the surgery is carried out.
“There is a thin line between the brain and the tumours and sometimes surgery does not get rid of all cells as it is risky. Any cell left will eventually grow,” he explained, adding that benign tumours like astrocytomas grow at a slow rate and can take up to 10 years to recur.
He noted that people should seek medical attention for headaches that last more than a week besides reducing the intake of unprescribed pain relievers.
“Astrocytomas may eventually lead to death if they are not treated as their growth tampers with oxygen intake into parts of the brain,” he warned, adding that parents should look out for regular headaches and abnormal behaviour like slurred speech and unsteady walking in children.