8 November 2012

Kenya: Silent Killers Plague Martin At Only 34

Martin Gitonga's life has been on a wild roller coaster since August this year when he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a fancy word used by doctors to describe an enlarged heart.

His kidneys have also failed and he has to rely on three sessions of dialysis per week to clean his body system.

He is only 34-years-old:

"It is very difficult for me and my family because I used to live a normal life and then suddenly moved from working kidneys to being confined to a machine. It is very difficult to explain but the first time was traumatic," he says.

"It is very hard watching him go through it and not getting the answers he needs. The disease has a downing effect because it impacts on quality of life. Your life is pretty much taken up by dialysis," his 32-year-old wife Daphine Gitonga tells me.

Martin always liked his food fast, oily, and salty and weighed a strong 116 kilograms before his diagnosis.

And like a thief in the night, high blood pressure crept in, sometimes reaching highs of 162/100.

But Martin had no idea that he was buying a one way ticket to an early grave.

"High blood pressure is what drives the underlying structural damage to the kidneys so that they do not function as well as they are supposed to," says Charles Kariuki, an Interventional Cardiologist in charge of Martin's case.

Support Martin:

Account Name: Martin/Daphine/Angela

Account Number: 0605384001

Swift Code: DTKEKENA

Diamond Trust Bank, Westgate Branch - Westlands

"The chemicals that they are supposed to be removing from the system accumulate and they cause further harm which may include heart damage when calcium is deposited to the heart," he explains.

"The heart will then begin to compensate for some of the structural changes; it can thicken its muscle or it can dilate leading to further kidney damage," he adds.

Martin's lack of knowledge was like driving on a flat tyre.

Maybe things would be different if he kept off sodium, lead a low-cholesterol, high-fibre diet, took more natural juices and antioxidants like strawberries, drank a lot of water and also consumed proper proteins like fish, chicken and salmon.

High cholesterol levels deposit fats in blood vessels choking them and starving major body organs.

"You could have a parent with a 10-year-old child going into a fast food outlet to buy them pizza, fries and oily chicken while she says she cannot eat them because of the doctor's orders. But then that child should adopt the same diet as their parents to prevent these diseases in the future," argues Kariuki.

Sometimes an individual can lose up to 90 percent of their kidney functions without any warning.

And although the writing is always on the wall, most people do not see it.

"I did not know that I was sick and I thought I was having normal headaches so I would take different kinds of paracetamols to treat the symptoms," recalls Martin.

"He would wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air so this forced us to go to hospital because we used to self medicate. He was first diagnosed with pneumonia, then bronchitis and asthma before we eventually went for a proper check up," says Daphine.

Martin has chronic kidney disease - which borders total kidney failure.

He either has to get a new kidney or rely on dialysis for the rest of his life.

And at Sh9,000 per session, life-long dialysis does not sound like an economically viable option.

"We have already spent Sh100,000 and that is on dialysis alone because we spend Sh27,000 in a week and insurance does not cover kidney diseases because they are termed as terminal so we will eventually have to get a donor," notes Daphine.

But Martin cannot get a kidney transplant before his heart recovers.

"The heart can go back to its original size but you rarely get a perfect reversal. In some cases you may get what appears to be a complete reversal but most patients who come to us come in late and the reversal is impossible," says Kariuki.

"The aim of treatment is to prevent or delay deterioration rather than focus on improvement which is the ideal target but you get away with containing the condition rather than treating it," he adds.

Support Martin

Account Name: Martin/Daphine/Angela

Account Number: 0605384001

Swift Code: DTKEKENA

Diamond Trust Bank, Westgate Branch - Westlands

A catheter is placed on the right side of his torso, just below his collar bone.

The catheter is connected to other pipes in the dialyser every time he walks in for a dialysis session.

"The catheter has to be cleaned before the pipes are inserted each time so they have to clean above the skin and it is very painful. If it gets infected I have to go to the Intensive Care Unit and they will have to remove it from the right side to the left," he explains.

The dialysis machine has two pipes colour coded in red and blue.

It works as an external kidney to make sure that Martin's blood is not poisoned by the waste products in the body.

"Blood going into the machine is coded as blue while the blood coming from the machine back to the body is in red. The other mechanisms are just to drive the blood so that it is not just your body that is purely driving the machine because it would strain the heart," explains Kariuki.

He also has a fistula on his left forearm that was surgically created by doctors.

It connects an artery and a vein on his arm to create an arteriovenous fistula that will eventually replace the catheter on his collar bone.

"Sustaining that kind of system with the tubes inside you is not easy over time. Your body may reject the tube or get an infection and we have to get an alternative route of getting into his body," says Kariuki.

"It is easy to connect the fistula to the dialysis machine," he explains.

"But I find it hard to sleep because I don't like sleeping on the left side because of the fistula on my arm and I cannot sleep on my right side because of the catheter," says Martin.

A single dialysis session lasts four hours and leaves horrible side effects.

"The dialysis itself has some after effects for example headaches, fatigue, nausea, and mood swings. Sometimes he just wants to be alone so even psychologically it is tough but I have learnt how to cope," explains Daphine.

Martin, who works as an art director for an advertising firm, eventually has to go back to work to earn a living.

And although it will be tough, he has little choice.

"We have to figure out how to balance because he has to do four hours of dialysis three times a week and his job is very demanding so we have to figure out how to adjust," says Daphine.

Martin and his wife are equally determined to make the situation work for them.

They have already started the Help Donate a Kidney - Martin Gitonga on Facebook and are also using Twitter to raise funds for his treatment.

The couple has also been busy spreading a message of hope to those in similar circumstances.

"We would have loved to get kids at some point; if God blessed us with kids we would be very happy; I don't think we can let the disease run our lives so whatever blessings that we can get would make us very happy," says Daphine.

"We are also praying for a miracle," concludes Martin.

To support Martin, you could make a donation via wire transfer or Bankers cheque made payable to:

Account Name: Martin/Daphine/Angela

Account Number: 0605384001

Swift Code: DTKEKENA

Diamond Trust Bank, Westgate Branch - Westlands

Or MPESA Number: 0700 462376 (Daphine Mungai)

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