Rebecca Mutiso @rebeccamutheu
Thomas Letangule, a lawyer and former Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) member, stares at photos he is holding with nostalgia. They are photos of his late wife, Esther. In one, she is seen strolling on a beach holding a child’s hand, while in another, she is sitting in a café in what appears to be an outing with a child.
They are laughing, brimming with life. In another photo, Esther is surrounded by a group of people, her husband included. She is laughing; her neck adorned with the traditional neck beads as though ready to leap in the air to do a traditional gig. “Here, we were at home during a traditional ceremony. My wife was loving and welcoming.
Our home was always full of joy,” Letangule (pictured) says, his voice choking with emotion. The other photo shows a small girl with neat cornrows swimming in a pool. The girl is his daughter, Namunyak, an Ilchamus name meaning, the lucky one. Sadly, her mother is among the 6,000 women who die annually when giving birth in Kenya.
One thing that still confounds Letangule, five years after Esther’s death, is how she woke up one morning in good health and a few hours later, she lay dead in a hospital bed. She was eight months pregnant expecting their third child. “Her pregnancy was normal. She did not have any complications.
The only thing I remember is that her feet used to swell,but we thought that this was usual in any pregnancy,” Letangule says during an interview at his home. The memory of the day his wife died on April 10, 2013 still haunts him. She died at 35. “I left my wife at home preparing to take our first daughter to school.
There was nothing wrong with her. I went to the office and was held up in meetings because it was just after the elections. At around Ipm, I received a call from Family Care Medical Centre in Nairobi West asking me to go to the hospital immediately because my wife was ill.
Traffic was hectic and I remember a few metres to the hospital I got out of the car and ran to the hospital,” he says. When he got there, he was informed that his wife had come in for a routine check-up and the nurse was forced to induce labour, but she died after delivering. Baby Namunyak was rushed to the Nairobi Hospital because she was born prematurely.
What Letangule could not understand was why the hospital had taken this decision yet his wife was only eight months pregnant, why no one had called him to explain the situation and why a nurse, without contacting a doctor, had made the tragic decision to deliver the baby. His first and second born children were delivered at the same hospital without a hitch.
After his wife’s death, Letangule reported the mater to the Medical Practitioners and Dentists board, which found the hospital culpable. The nurse was given a two-year suspension. Beyond that, no other action was taken against the hospital.
To date the hospital has never accepted any wrongdoing and instead blames Esther’s death on Eclampsia, a rare but serious condition where high blood pressure results in seizures during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth.
“It is unfortunate that a mother can lose her life while giving birth. Our hospitals need to have trained staff. There also needs to be a legislation so that those responsible for the death of a mother can be punished.
The lawyer has now taken the hospital to court. “My family is suffering emotionally. It is never easy to heal but we are learning to cope,” he says. This year, Letangule plans to tell his daughter about the mother during the fifth anniversary of her death.