A minute-long conversation leaves me panting

Damacline Nyandika. [Courtesy]
Thanks to rheumatic valvular heart disease that needs surgery she can’t afford, Damacline Nyandika’s life has been reduced to sleeping, taking drugs and staying indoors all day long. 

I started experiencing fatigue some time in 2013. This disrupted my daily activities as I spent most of the time sleeping. I would also sweat profusely and experienced breathing difficulties. My right leg also started to swell. I ignored these symptoms until the nerves in my neck started aching and my head twisted to one side. I visited many private hospitals near home in Kisii and walked away with painkillers which did little to remedy my condition.

One hospital in Kisii referred me to Kenyatta National Hospital where an ultrasound of the heart revealed that I was suffering from rheumatic heart disease. Doctors at KNH said the condition could have been caused by a bacterial infection that hadn’t been treated properly. I remembered having had a severe sore throat back in primary school which I had ignored. The doctors’ pronouncement got me worried even as they reassured me that proper medication could greatly improve my health. They also suggested an open heart surgery to correct my condition. In fact, they insisted that to live, I needed the surgery.

Unfortunately, KNH didn’t have the necessary facilities for my surgery. They advised me to look for other hospitals which had the machines for my surgery. I tried many hospitals and found out surgery was way beyond what I could afford. One hospital said I needed Sh1.2 million for the procedure. Another said I needed Sh800,000.

At KNH, I was given medication and discharged from hospital. The drugs helped and I resumed my daily hustle in Kisii. But the happiness was short-lived when two months later, I suffered a bad stroke and I was rushed back to KNH. For two months, I was in a coma. The stroke was linked to heart failure.

My hospitalisation also caused problems in my marriage and it inevitably failed. So alone and heartbroken, and now homeless, my daughter and I moved in with a sister in Kasarani.

Now six years later, I am still without the surgery the doctors had recommended. With no money, I have shelved the dream of getting the surgery done to correct my heart. Instead, I take drugs and a monthly injection that helps manage my condition. The drugs, excluding the clinic visits, cost me Sh2,000 monthly. While the drugs make the symptoms bearable, I am often in the hospital since I experience many episodes of shortness of breathe. I also constantly battle low blood pressure and rapid weight loss due to my poor appetite. Breathing difficulty can’t allow me to comfortably do otherwise simple tasks like going up a flight of stairs, speaking at length and doing simple house chores. I rely on my sister to do most of the house chores. And because I can’t hold conversations without needing to catch my breath mid sentences, I don’t go to social places much. My days are largely spent staying in the house, taking my drugs and sleeping.

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I hope one day I can get the surgery done and lead a normal life. One day I will be able to work and fend for my seven-year-old daughter. That is not something I would ever take for granted.

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rheumatic valvular heart diseaseDamacline Nyandika