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A rare show of humanity meet Thuo, Gladys Kamande

His face distorted by hunger and blackened by soot that gathers over his clothing and skin as he extracts what he can from sleep, small-framed, 15-year-old John Thuo’s life has been in the alleys and cold, unforgiving streets of Thika.

It’s the life that drains away attributes of humanity and morality from street children while outwardly makes them unsightly—the lingering image, the signature statement of their existence. Thuo’s lifeline hangs perilously from the unreliable proceeds of begging. And this day was no different.

He was forcing body and limbs around the streets of Thika begging from motorists. And so out of habit and routine, he thrust out a begging hand towards a passenger on the front seat of a saloon car that had slowed down. What his eyes landed on made them pop out.

A quick assessment told him that even in his dire state, his circumstances were far better than those of the woman strapped to the front seat with tubes connected to the nose and an oxygen tank behind. Something…intense pity, suddenly tagged at his heart and Thuo burst into tears.

The subject of this emotional meltdown was Gladys Wairimu Kamande, who was being driven around; her express mission being to raise Sh7 million for a lung reconstruction surgery.

In what eloquently illustrates the age-old adage that nobody is too poor to give, Thuo found himself handing over to Gladys the Sh20 he had got from begging. “My friend had told me there was a woman going around with an oxygen machine and here in front of my eyes was her in person.

John Thuo, the street boy, weeps after meeting Gladys for the first time in Thika. Photo/COURTESY
John Thuo, the street boy, weeps after meeting Gladys for the first time in Thika. Photo/COURTESY

I found myself overcome with such strong emotions,” recounts Thuo. “Then something just struck me that I should pray for her after which I enquired if she needed a helping hand and offered to go with her home to assist with domestic chores,” explained the teen.

Originally from Kabiti, Murang’a, Thuo found himself on the streets when his mother, Mary Nyambura, passed on and was left in the hands of a father and step-mother who mistreated him. Gladys’ face lights up when asked about Thuo.

“I consider him my son,” she says and there’s everything to give substance to this. Though on completely different planes genetically and socially, Thuo and Gladys are, however, united by love and compassion.

He has since been enrolled in a children’s home in Thika and found family with Gladys, who he fondly refers to as mum, and spends as much time as he is able with. And true to his pledge, the boy is all attentive to the woman he calls mum whenever he is in the house.

Well, Gladys herself, despite incredible discomfort, wears a ready and infectious smile, her calm demeanor masking the litany of challenges she has had to surmount through a tumultuous 16 years. And despite currently being confined to a bed with mobility severely restricted and tubes carrying oxygen protruding from her nostrils, she is perfect image of someone charging at life with fortitude.

She has collapsed lungs, caused by recurrent blood clots that render the 32-year-old fully dependent on an oxygen machine to breathe. “I am a born-again Christian,” she introduces herself and until 2000 was happily married and fully engrossed in earning a living as a hawker.

I had just delivered my daughter Ann Muthoni a year earlier and was overjoyed,” she says. However, she started experiencing constant pain in her stomach prompting her to seek medical attention. Doctors found she had a growth that required surgery.

“I underwent the operation in 2000, quickly recuperated and resumed work,” she says. Eager to expand her family beyond Anne, Gladys conceived her second baby the same year. However, unlike her first pregnancy, she developed complications, leading to its termination on doctor’s advice. It was to mark the beginning of a horror tale that did not appear to have an end at one point.

What followed was termination of four successive pregnancies. “Between 2000 and 2008 I had a series of ectopic pregnancies. In all these instances, there was no choice but to remove the babies to save my life,” she says. Dazed and confused by such incomprehensible turn of fate, Gladys, who by now was experiencing strained marital life, decided to start life afresh elsewhere and away from the familiar environment close to her husband.

“In my tortured state of mind, I figured that either my family or my husband’s family were behind my misfortunes so running away from home felt like the only way out from the endless misery,” she says. Her desire to start over took her from her home in Mwiki, Nairobi to Nakuru.

But at this point, she discovered was already pregnant again. In her new setting, things seemed to look more upbeat. And the confirmation came when she delivered a healthy baby boy she named Testimony to depict God’s triumph after adversity.

But her feelings of joy and fulfillment were short lived for Testimony fell ill and passed on only two weeks after birth. “It was too much for me to bear. I decided to go back home to my husband and baby,” she says. But as fate would have it, another streak of misfortunes struck again in 2012.

“I started noticing that my skin was duller than usual,” says Gladys. Assuming it was due to using cold water in her grocery shop, she started taking pneumonia medication but her condition only worsened prompting her to visit Mama Lucy Hospital.

Doctors there found a clot near her heart and immediately referred her to Kenyatta National Hospital and straight to the intensive care unit. For six months, an unconscious but sedated Gladys remained under the support of machines.

When she regained consciousness, she found herself unable to see due to severed optic nerve and her left side paralysed. And to make things worse, the husband walked out on her. Being left by her husband when she needed him most, further added to the sting of her pain.

But she soldiered on and through constant physiotherapy at KNH, regained the function of her left side. The recovery spelt a fresh lease of life. “I enrolled for a course for the blind in 2012,” she says but in December last year, Gladys fell ill again and has been in and out of the ICU due to limited oxygen in the body.

Doctors revealed that her lungs had collapsed, necessitating her to be on oxygen throughout since July. Apparently, a blood vessel in her heart is ruptured requiring fresh surgery besides another surgery to repair her optic nerves. Now Gladys needs to raise Sh7 million for the two surgeries.

Mercifully, through acts of kindness such as the Sh20 from a street boy, she has so far seen Kenyans contribute Sh7.4 million towards her treatment in India. She will be flying to India next week for treatment and thinks it’s the likes of Thuo who are predisposed to help who have made it all possible!

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