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Only a new liver will save my life

Jane Wacuka developed paediatric liver cirrhosis at seven months. Doctors expected her liver to regenerate, but it did not. Now getting a new one is her only hope

Roy Lumbe @lumbe_roy

Jane Wacuka is one of the over one million candidates who sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination this mo+nth. While her friends are eagerly waiting for the results to be released so that they can join Form One, something else preoccupies her mind.

The 14-year-old girl who towers over her peers suffers from liver cirrhosis, a condition she developed when she was seven months old. Though a large number of patients suffering from the condition get it due to sustained, excessive alcohol consumption, Wacuka’s case is different. According to health experts, cirrhosis of the liver is a condition where scar tissue gradually replaces healthy liver cells forcing the organ to stop functioning well.

As Wacuka’s parents are unable to raise the required money to secure a liver transplant in India, medics warn that the condition can cause permanent damage to the liver. The transplant cost is approximately Sh7 million and her father Geoffrey Karanja, is a willing donor.

Wacuka was born in 2003 and her father remembers the first thing he noticed is that she had pale eyes and skin. “Lack of information and access to health facility as well as financial constraints made us ignore the symptoms thinking it was not a serious condition,” said Karanja. Some medical practitioners also misled them to believe that the situation would get better with time.

“In most hospitals, we were told that her liver would regenerate before the age of 12, but it never happened,” regretted Karanja. Fourteen years down the line, Karanja is a disturbed father as his daughter’s life and education hangs in the balance.

When Wacuka’s condition deteriorated, they took her to Nakuru Level 5 Hospital where she was diagnosed with severe cirrhosis. “We were referred to Kenyatta National Hospital as Nakuru did not have trained personnel and necessary equipment to treat her,” added Karanja. At Kenyatta National Hospital, Wacuka was put on therapy and drugs, but her condition worsened.

“She complained of constant pain followed by myriad complications due to the drugs she was taking,” added Karanja. Wacuka has been referred to India for a liver transplant, a process that will take four months.

“I am ready to donate part of my liver to save my daughter’s life. The challenge is lack of funds to facilitate travel and operation process,” noted Karanja. According to Dr Mark Njugu, a paediatrician, infant cirrhosis is rare and biliary atresia and genetic-metabolic diseases cause it. “The condition is common with adults and in most cases the ones who take a lot of alcohol. In children it is rare,” said Dr Njugu.

Some of the symptoms include blood capillaries that become visible on the skin, fatigue, insomnia, itchy skin, loss of appetite, loss of body weight, nausea, pain or tenderness in the area where the liver is located. “Complications of paediatric cirrhosis are similar to those observed in adult patients including gastrointestinal bleeding, ascites and spontaneous bacterial peritonitis,” noted Dr Njugu. He pointed out that acute cirrhosis is only treated through liver transplant.

Normal size

There are three types of liver transplants. Deceased organ donation – involves transplanting a liver that has been removed from a person who died recently. Living donor liver transplant – a section of liver is removed from a living donor; because the liver can regenerate itself, both the transplanted section and the remaining section of the donor’s liver are able to regrow into a normal-sized liver.

Split donation – a liver is removed from a person who died recently and is split into two pieces; each piece is transplanted into a different person, where they will grow to a normal size. Wacuka’s head teacher at Mugwathi Primary School, Peter Maina, describes her as a humble, disciplined and good performer, but the disease is a stumbling block.

“She has been in and out of school due to her condition, which has also affected her performance in school,” said Maina. He said the school management has exempted her from coming to school early. “We call upon well-wishers to come to her aid in a bid to raise funds, which will facilitate liver transplant,” added Maina.

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