Kenya: Broke and Ailing - Retired Footballer Ojwang' Seeks Aid for Heart Surgery

When entering Kaloleni Estate in Nakuru, you notice many iron sheet fences around houses.

Insecurity is high. Residents of this densely populated estate that borders Lake Nakuru National Park have been living in fear of attacks by a youthful criminal gang known as "Confirm".

One of the residents of this estate is unsung football hero George Ojwang'. He is also a former Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldier.

As he slowly steps out of his house, Ojwang' exhibits signs of a gallant soldier who made sacrifices for the nation, but which few people of this estate know of.

"When I see these iron sheets that have turned our estate into an iron jungle, denying us its natural beauty because of the gangs, I feel sad," Ojwang' said at his one-bedroomed house.

"I'm a trained soldier, I feel like jumping out and confronting criminals, but my heart fails me terribly. I survived as a soldier for nine years and it pains me to see young people harassing residents."

When you meet Ojwang' for the first time, he appears like someone in good health, yet he suffers from a serious health condition.

"People look at me and think I'm normal," he says as he pulls a plastic chair outside his house to bask in the early morning sun.

The former Kenyan Premier League side Scarlet FC player is suffering from a heart condition that causes his body to swell if he does not take drugs.

"The doctor told me that if I don't take drugs my body retains body fluids, resulting in the swelling," Ojwang' said.

In December 2018, he was diagnosed with a heart condition while enjoying his retirement in Gem, Siaya County. He is supposed to go for specialised heart surgery in India but lacks money.

"I could not walk. My legs started swelling like someone suffering from elephantiasis," Ojwang' says.

"I think about what could happen to me all the time. Every time I get off the sofa I fear I may pass out because I have no money to buy drugs. I'm careful, I don't walk quickly."

This is the irony of life for Ojwang' who enjoyed an illustrious career at Third Kenya Rifles barracks at Lanet in the outskirts of Nakuru town. As a footballer, he recalls how he used to dribble the ball at Afraha Stadium.

"I was a regular right winger at Scarlet. I remember my speedy runs but today I can't walk briskly, I feel like I'm carrying another person's body," he says.

There is heavy sadness in his voice when he narrates the financial cost of treating his condition. It has cost him an arm and a leg. Desperation is fast creeping in and hope fading.

"My world has been turned upside down by this life threatening condition. The drugs are very expensive," says the 59-year-old father of five girls and six grandchildren.

"I can no longer live without using drugs. Each week I spend Sh15,000. This has been the toughest moment of my life. I'm supposed to enjoy my retirement with my grandchildren," he says.

"I have five girls who are unemployed. My wife Margaret Atieno is the sole breadwinner. Her meagre salary has been stretched to the limit. I sometimes feel I'm overburdening her as she struggles to keep me alive."

"I depend on my wife to sustain me. I appeal to well-wishers to hear my cry and save my life."

"One of the drugs I take costs Sh2,500 per tablet and I'm supposed to take them for two weeks. I can't travel when I haven't taken drugs because I keep going for short calls. Other passengers might not be amused when I keep stopping the vehicle."

Ojwang' said his wife Atieno who struggles daily to keep him alive is his beacon of hope.

"It's difficult. Drugs are expensive. If I get Sh2,000 now, I don't think of buying food first, I rush to buy drugs to keep my husband alive. It has not been easy. I'm the father and mother. I'm financially drained," Atieno, who works at the Nakuru County Government enforcement department, says.

But like a soldier who never says die, Ojwang' says: "I'm here to stay and I'm battling on."

"This is the first time that I have ever felt real fear, unbridled fear. I was a soldier for nine years and I never felt any fear like this one," he told Nation Sport.

Ojwang's face lights up as he remembers the contribution he made to Kenyan football alongside Scarlet greats such as former Harambee Stars goalkeeper Washington Muhanji and Ambrose Ayoyi - perhaps one of the best natural left wingers Kenya has ever produced.

The rest of his compatriots at Scarlet included Patrick Miya, Anthony Odhiambo, Fredrick Etyang,' Bramwell Apollo, the late Charles Odero, Jack Sihul, Said Billo, Ridhwani Juma and Dan Odhiambo. When Ojwang' was diagnosed with the heart condition he had so many unanswered questions that gave him sleepless nights.

"When I joined the KDF I did a thorough medical check-up including for my heart before I started training. I wonder why this troubling condition was not detected early," he says.

Ojwang' started his football career at the defunct Nakuru Youth Olympic under the tutelage of the late coach Sammy Nyongesa and played alongside the late Sammy Abidah, Dick Anyanga, Sammy Taabu, Dick Oduor and James Odawa.

He joined KDF in 1979 to 1988. In 1989, he played for Sony Sugar for two years and later coached the defunct Nakuru Breweries FC for two years.

His greatest moment is when Scarlet represented Kenya in a continental competition after finishing second in the Kenyan Premier League in the mid-1980s in Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia.

His lowest moment was when Scarlet's unbeaten run in the league was ended by Hakati Sportif at City Stadium in Nairobi with a 1-0 defeat.

"I felt like a bomb had been thrown onto the pitch after the final whistle," Ojwang' recalls.

His memorable goal was when Scarlet beat Gor 2-1 at Afraha Stadium. Ojwang' describes former Gor Mahia defender Tobias Ocholla as the most difficult to beat during his time.

"Beating Ocholla was like climbing a steep hill with reverse gear," Ojwang' says.

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