LIFE IN A WHEELCHAIR

Bleak moments and my spirited fight to walk again

Dennis Murimi was diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency at the age of 25 and soon developed a walking abnormality

In Summary

• Murimi had been in relatively good health before he suffered the condition.

• A deficit of vitamin B12 can be rectified by incorporating protein in one's diet.

Dennis Murimi repairs a wheelchair at Joytown in Thika
Dennis Murimi repairs a wheelchair at Joytown in Thika
Image: Margaret Wanjiru

He grew up watching his mother, a matron in a special school, take care of children on wheelchairs.

Dennis Murimi, the second born in a family of three, grew up in Joytown Primary School for the Physically Handicapped in Thika. The school housed his mother, Lucy Kananu.

Murimi had been in relatively good health at the time. He never imagined he would be in the same situation as the pupils his mother was taking care of. But a few days to the Christmas of 2015, his life took a turn for the worse. Murimi, then 25, started noticing signs that would eventually confine him to a wheelchair.

It began with bulging fingertips, regular dizziness and a piercing pain on his feet. Initially, he dismissed them as minor as the signs were still bearable. Slowly, however, he turned anaemic. Murimi developed microcytic anaemia, a condition caused by a lack of vitamin B12. 

"I was healthy throughout my childhood. I attended high school in Murang'a before joining college to study accountancy. Then one day in 2016, I found myself in a wheelchair," he recounted.

According to Daniel Muhinja, a nutritionist, a case of paralysis caused by vitamin B12 deficiency is quite rare but occurs. Muhinja advised that people include foods such as whole-grain cereals, milk, seafood, beef and fish in their diets to keep this deficiency at bay.

"Vitamin B12 works on the nervous system and, therefore, if one lacks it, it could limit nerve transmission, hence destroying the nerve cells. In the case of paralysis, it means the nerves transmitting information to the legs were destroyed and in cases like these, we advise the intake of B12 supplements to boost blood levels back up," Muhinja explained.

Early signs and symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include anaemia, dementia, poor eyesight and confusion.

When Murimi visited his mother, she said he did not look well and insisted that he seeks medical attention.

"I went to Thika Level 5 Hospital where I was diagnosed with microcytic anaemia and low blood levels," he said.

"My health started to deteriorate and I lost approximately 10kg in such a little time. The doctors advised that I do weekly checkups to boost my blood levels."

Murimi quit his job as an attendant at a local supermarket where he had been for two years and moved in with his mother after it became evident he would need constant care.

In August 2016, he experienced weakness on his back and legs, and the dizziness worsened. He became a hospital regular and religiously took B-Complex vitamins that had been prescribed. However, this did not help much.

By September the same year, Murimi had difficulties walking. He would drag the right leg. Two months later, he suffered another problem on the left leg. The abnormality on both legs condemned him to a life in a wheelchair for the months that followed.

"I remember when I started dragging my right leg, people rumoured that I was always drunk even when attending church," the teary Murimi said.

He was referred to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) for further diagnosis and treatment.

Dennis Murimi in a wheelchair workshop Joytown Primary School for the Physically Handicapped in Thika.
Dennis Murimi in a wheelchair workshop Joytown Primary School for the Physically Handicapped in Thika.
Image: Margaret Wanjiru

To his disadvantage, doctors went on strike before he could have the recommended scans. His hopes now lay with private facilities and he turned to one for help.

"I had exhausted all my savings and, therefore, fundraised to get the tests done. Three months later, the scans had not been interpreted as doctors remained on strike,” he recalled.

During this period, Murimi decided to volunteer at Joytown where he would help assemble and repair wheelchairs in partnership with Bethany Kids Foundation.

"The worst thing to happen to a recently paralysed youth is to have no clear direction on what is happening to your body," he said in grief.

Doctors who visited Joytown offered to interpret the MRI and CT scan results and advised that Murimi takes up physiotherapy.

"Joytown had physiotherapy equipment, which I learned to use on my own while I received counselling services from the foundation," he said.

"I learnt to accept my new life and by February 2017, I had foregone my wheelchair for a walker."

After the strike that lasted 74 days, Murimi went back to KNH where he was told he had suffered from a deficiency of B12, a condition that caused spinal cord degeneration. He continued with the prescribed B12 supplements and physiotherapy, and after about one-and-a-half months, he could now walk on crutches.

Currently, Murimi’s movement is aided by a walking stick but he prays that he'll one day be independent again and hopes to move back to his own house. Though he still faces financial challenges, he has to see a doctor bimonthly and travel long distances. Thus far, he attributes his improvement to God and his unyielding desire to get better.

"This was especially hard for my parents. My father, for instance, did not understand what was happening to me. My mother, on the hand, was always present catering for my every need. She was my biggest and consistent support system," he added.

Through his volunteering, Bethany Kids Foundation has offered him another job as a mentor to the children as he assembles and repairs wheelchairs for the school and external users.