The long road to recovery from kidney failure

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Alvine Kapitako

Windhoek-Jenny Kauta was 14 years old when doctors told her that she was suffering from kidney failure.

“I mainly had headaches and I was vomiting [often],” said Kauta, who at the time lived with her grandmother in Gobabis. He mother died when she was only five years old.
Kauta explained that when she complained of headache and vomiting at the health facility in Gobabis, the doctors never examined her for high blood pressure.

“They only give me Panado (a painkiller) when I sought medical attention at the state health facility in Gobabis, but then it got worse,” Kauta narrated. In fact, it was only after she was diagnosed with kidney failure that doctors told her that the cause was high blood pressure.

According to the 2013 Demographic Health Survey conducted by the Ministry of Health and Social Services 40 percent of people in Namibia, aged 15 years and above, suffer from hypertension.

“I was small. I didn’t have any reaction. I thought I would do dialysis and I would be fine, but then I ended up in hospital for two years,” Kauta narrated.

She had to drop out of school for two years, because she had to be in Windhoek for dialysis. Gobabis does not have a kidney dialysis centre and thus Windhoek was the nearest place for her to go to for dialysis treatment, which was needed three times a week.

“The week I came to Windhoek, I had nose bleeds and my legs were swelling. The hospital was my home for two years,” said Kauta, who is now in Grade 12 at Windhoek High School.

As fate would have it, Kauta’s aunt, Lydia De Muinda, who was very close to Kauta volunteered to donate to her niece a kidney. The 24-year-old De Muinda says she wanted to give Kauta a second chance to live.

“I had to drive all the way from Gobabis just to bathe her when she was sick. It was during that time that De Muinda noticed that Kauta’s behaviour had changed.

“You know how sick people are; they just want to be all by themselves. I felt like Jenny’s life was stolen from her. She was unable to have a normal life like any other teenager and so when her grandmother said she needed a kidney I said, ‘I will do it’. I thought I wouldn’t lose anything and in fact I’m saving a life,” said De Muinda.

Initially three other family members had pledged to donate a kidney to Kauta, but in the end “people got scared and backed out”, so her aunt was the only one who was prepared to go ahead and give her kidney to save Kauta’s life.

“I’m really thankful to her. Despite the fact that she [now] only has one she gave me her kidney. That’s something big, and I feel so much better now,” Kauta interrupted.
De Muinda continued: “Almost every morning Jenny would run to the toilet to vomit,” but Kauta again interrupted to say she would feel sick after dialysis, which took three to four hours, three times a week. “The amount of fluids I had to take while on dialysis were limited,” she further said.

De Muinda added: “I never had any doubt. Even family members were asking me if I was sure. I remember that I was even more excited than Jenny to donate the kidney. My life didn’t really change. I still live a normal life. I’m 100 percent fine,” De Muinda observed.

Surgery

After six years of being in and out of hospital, 20-year old Kauta finally kissed the dialysis centre goodbye on June 14 last year when she went for the kidney transplant.
The duo explained that it took close to two years to undergo a number of tests before eventually undergoing the surgery that would save Kauta’s life.

Kauta, who now has three kidneys (two shrank) recovered within two months, while her donor recovered within two weeks. “In the beginning we were told not to lift heavy objects. Apart from having lost a lot of weight I’m fine,” De Muinda said.

Kauta still takes medication to boost her immune system. “I have to take 18 pills a day. If I don’t take the medication my body will reject the kidney, because it’s a foreign thing that entered my body,” she said, adding that she will likely have to be on medication for the rest of her life. “But with time the dosage will reduce,” De Muinda added.

Kauta says she is not on any special diet. However, she may not eat grapefruit and raw meat or meat that is not well prepared. Moreover, Kauta says she is physically active, like never before. In fact, last Saturday she took part in the school’s athletics activities.
Understanding the disease

Tanja Basson of the Windhoek Kidney Dialysis Centre told New Era on Friday that doctors tend to be very supportive of patients with kidney failure. However, “family members don’t understand and, therefore, don’t give the required support to these patients,” Basson noted.

She said it is emotionally draining for patients with kidney failure, because their ‘whole lives’ change. “It (disease) really restricts someone’s life,” Basson said, noting that not everyone is as willing as De Muinda to donate a kidney to patients with kidney failure.

“Mostly, it’s family members who are willing to donate to their loved ones,” she said.
Why kidney transplant takes long

Kauta and Basson explained that they had to be put on a waiting list just to undergo the transplant. Also, they explained that they first underwent many tests and psychological counseling to prepare them for what lies ahead.

Basson explained that for a living donor to give their kidney to a patient in need of it the donor needs to say explicitly that they want to donate an organ and this has to be in writing.

“That is when they do the matches, such as the blood groups. There are a lot of tests done to make sure the donor is healthy enough and there are no underlying factors that will come into risk once the donor has donated their kidney. After donating the kidney they have to go for yearly check-ups.”

In the event the kidney donor is a woman, they normally take a woman who has had children or a woman who is past childbearing age, Basson explained.

“You put your one kidney at risk of losing it, because it’s a strain to the kidneys when a woman is pregnant, as the kidneys work harder,” Basson explained. This does not mean that a woman with one kidney cannot give birth, she added.

“You have to live healthily when you donate your kidney,” said Basson, who emphasised that the disease risk is higher than for a person with both kidneys.

Kauta says she wants to study radiology at the University of Namibia. “I always wanted to help other people at a hospital, just to give back to the community,” said Kauta, urging people to accept life as a precious gift.

“I have learned not to take life for granted. I was just fourteen years old and I didn’t expect something like that to happen to me and it did. I see a lot of children at school taking life for granted,” she said.

Kauta further thanked all those who were supportive during her most trying times, including her guardian, Eugene de Paauw, family members and the teachers and learners at Windhoek High School.

“I want to say thank you to the De Muinda family, Jenny’s guardian, Eugene de Paauw and close friends that supported me,” De Muinda added.

* This was the third report in New Era’s three-part series on kidney disease.

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