When Virginia was about to join school at 5 years of age, her mother visited her soon to be teacher in advance and explained that the little girl had a special problem. She could not control her urine passage and her mother could not imagine how life would be outside of the safe confines of her home.
Virginia’s urine problem was/is actually fistula. Though Fistula is most often a hole in the birth canal due to obstructed labour, Virginia’s was obviously not the case. She developed the condition after a catheter was kept on for too long during one of many hospital admissions after sustaining severe burns. She was just 2 years old when she fell into a pot of boiling water at home.
Other than developing Fistula, her medical nightmares have also involved frustrating visits from hospital to hospital, ICU admission for 2 months and 18 surgeries. Virginia also developed a wound on her head due to prolonged use of drip syringes. She still bears permanent scars on her head due to this, which her mother and auntie has to cover with a weave so as not to arouse too many questions from her schoolmates. All these problems have all but drained her grandparents of all their resources. Not to mention that they’re elderly and of poor health themselves.
At school, her mother found a very supportive teacher who listened to the problem and helped her with possible solutions for Virginia’s school life. One of the solutions was for Virginia’s mum to pack a lot of clean uniforms and underwear for her to carry to school daily. From her interview, I got the impression that the teacher, Margaret Wanderi, took Virginia like she would her own daughter, changing and cleaning her in school and shielding her as best she could from the psychological vagaries of fistula. And they’re severe. At an age when children play and mingle with abandon, Virginia had already started being shy and withdrawn. The teacher also spoke to other kids and built hope in them that one day Virginia would get treatment and she would be just fine.
That day came on 30th August, 2017 when Virginia was wheeled into the surgery that would change her young life forever at Coptic Hospital Nairobi. The surgery which was a complete success was funded by Safaricom Foundation and Virginia and her mother were able to leave hospital after just 5 days. A journey that started when Virginia was taken to visit a Safaricom Foundation medical camp in Gatundu had come to a successful end and Virginia could pick up her life as a normal school going 6 year old. After 4 years of living with fistula, Virgi as she’s fondly known at home and at school was free to be a child again. As I write this, she is fistula free, back in school and is not dependent on the diapers she had become accustomed to.
Safaricom foundation, in partnership with the Kenya Diabetes Management and Information Centre (DMI), holds medical camps in different parts of the country and reaches out to people with medical conditions that they cannot afford to even have diagnosed, let alone treated. Some are treated, and some are referred to hospitals for further tests, scans, treatment and surgeries when need be. It is out of one such camp that another success case Prisca Ariri from Nyamira started her journey to recovery, after having lived with Fistula for 50 years.
Virginia’s family cannot thank Safaricom Foundation enough. For a problem that seemed insurmountable to them, we can only imagine how they feel after it has been taken away.