Living in Kenya with diabetes
At age 3, I was admitted to the local hospital and after staying for almost a month without anybody having any idea of why I was having problems, someone finally requested a glucose test and I was diagnosed with diabetes. To many people this was strange. In the village I come from, people thought diabetes was a disease for the elderly. Some people also said those with diabetes do not live long-I even remember someone telling me that I wouldn't live to see my 18th birthday.
Every morning I would cry because of the insulin shots I got from my parents as part of my daily routine. I frequently tried to run away because of the needles and pain of these injections (thin insulin needles weren't available at the time). Little did I know that I needed these insulin injections in order to live.
Growing up with diabetes was not easy- taking insulin every morning, eating a different diet from my siblings, and having everyone look down at me and referring to me as a sick one. All these brought sorrow to me. Sometimes I would ask my parents "why me?" "When will I get well?"
My school life started well, but it did not continue well because of the many challenges diabetes brought. I had stunted growth and a big belly. My classmates would laugh and make fun of me, largely because I could not explain why I was so different. I never really understood what I was ailing from; all I knew was that I was sick.
At the age of 10, my dad was advised to take me to Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital to attend the educational clinics. It was there that I met a nurse named Jane Gitahi (Diabetic Educator) who taught me about the disease and the many unanswered questions I've had over the years. She educated me and the other patients on what diabetes does to your body, how to manage it, how to store and administer insulin, and the appropriate diet to follow. We booked for the next clinic visit, but I went home and immediately started applying the strategies she had taught me. My parents started doing everything that we had been taught, and in the next clinic visit I looked much better. Jane never stopped caring for me and consistently took her time to educate me and made sure I learned more about diabetes. She advised my parents to get me a glucometer so that I could do my blood sugars at home. MTRH also hired peer diabetes educators who advised me to attend trainings on diabetes and follow all the steps needed to improve my diabetes. These trainings really helped me and after completing them I became very comfortable with taking care of myself away from home and from my parents.
The time came for me to join high school and I was eager to go to boarding school where I knew I would get a better education. My parents were very hesitant to allow me to leave home but eventually allowed me to go after seeing how far I had come in managing my own diabetes. I did not have many problems because I had learned about diabetes and how to manage it. I was getting insulin from the hospital every time I went for checkups and I never missed insulin. I successfully completed high school and was able to gain admission to university.
I faced several challenges during my university training. Sometimes lectures could come at a time when I needed to eat or I needed to take my insulin. I also had trouble eating with the stress of school and therefore I had problems managing my diabetes; but quickly realized my eating habits were prevented me from getting my blood sugars under control.
The medical care that I was getting from the personnel at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and the many partners that supported this clinic gave me hope of living my life with diabetes. After benefitting from this clinic, I was excited about the opportunity to join this team and help other patients the way they helped me. I worked in the home glucose monitoring program for 2 years and after my graduation I got another job with the AMPATH-Kenya Program to serve as their lead Business Manager and coordinate their many projects including diabetes related programs. Through my employment with Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, I have also been able to see how the Lilly insulin product donation has improved my life and the hundreds of other patients who are now able to better control their diabetes.
* Though Mary's name is a psuedonym, her story is real.