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September 25, 2018

Tribute: Why Wanjiru was a silent soldier against Pulmonary Hypertension

Former Star chief sub editor Wanjiru Kinoti (C) cuts cake during a visit by Star staff on September 29, 2016, soon after her return from India for surgery
Former Star chief sub editor Wanjiru Kinoti (C) cuts cake during a visit by Star staff on September 29, 2016, soon after her return from India for surgery

Wanjiru Kinoti was described by her siblings as a jolly sister, who always cracked jokes even from her ICU bed.

“She was a fighter, who silently kept this ailment at bay, and would surprise us even from the brink of death,” eulogised her brother Kimathi Kinoti. She was ever-so-confident of living that within hours of being admitted in ICU, she would be back sending videos and funny jokes on WhatsApp, shocking the family every time, he said.

She had four bouts with ICU this year alone, two being really scary, but she would come out, Kimathi went on. 

Wanjiru’s first experience with pulmonary hypertension was in 1999, when blood clots were detected in her lungs. 

“But she would fight the ailment with such positivity that she took up an editing job with PC World magazine in 2000, in one of the toughest times for her health,” her father, Prof George Kinoti, said. 

Reading from Psalms 103, her father chose to rejoice for the life of his secondborn, who many times surprised her family with her love for learning and for work.

She was hospitalised numerous times during her 19-year battle with an ailment that doctors had told her she’d outlived by a good stretch, said her sister Wangari Kinoti. 

One of the fondest memories from her family was her cookery skills. She was the chef of the home, and would come up with impressive meals. 

 

WHAT AILED HER

Group Four pulmonary hypertension, what ailed Wanjiru, is pulmonary hypertension caused by blood clots in the lungs or general clotting disorders.

It arises when the arteries carrying blood from the right side of the heart to the lungs are constricted, disrupting blood flow. Blood must travel through the lungs for air exchange in order to pick up oxygen that it delivers to all the organs, muscles, and tissue in the body. 

The disease, therefore, causes a strain on the heart, making it work much harder to supply blood to the lungs. Hence one of the early signs include a racing heartbeat and shortness of breath. This would automatically make one fatigued. Another early symptom is chest pains and pain in the upper right side of the abdomen.

Later symptoms include light-headedness, especially during physical activities, fainting and swelling in the ankles and legs. The skin could also change to a bluish and pale colour.

Doctors have said that the disease has no curative options, and can only be slowed down. When left unmanaged, one could lose the fight within three to five years. Medication and lifestyle modifications are intended to slow the progression of the disease.

 

LIFE-SAVING SURGERY

Wanjiru went through a lif- saving heart and lung surgery back in 2003, giving her health a much-needed boost.

She wore her battles with such comforting courage. One day when this writer and a colleague, John Arum, went to visit her at Aga Khan Hospital, they would meet Wanjiru seated on the edge of the bed. She was planning on how to get discharged, but the doctors had not yet promised her any of that. They would need to ensure that her legs were back to a manageable size, since they were quite swollen then. She did not hesitate to show her visitors the swollen legs, leaving us in shocked stares. 

But who was Wanjiru to leave her jokes out of it? She dropped a fitting line, to the effect that which doctor would let her leave hospital in elephant legs anyway? She just had a way to melt a tense situation.

 

CREATING AWARENESS

According to Pulmonary Hypertension News, the oedema, or swelling in the legs, is due to a rising blood pressure, pushing the fluid in the alveoli.

The alveoli present in the lungs are normally filled with air during the breathing process, but in certain circumstances, the alveoli may fill with fluid rather than air. There are numerous reasons for the accumulation of fluid in the lungs, the most common being related to heart problems.

Oedema in pulmonary hypertension prevents oxygen from being absorbed into the bloodstream, since the heart isn’t capable of properly pumping the blood back up into the pulmonary arteries. 

When the blood pressure starts to rise, the fluid is pushed in the alveoli, reducing the normal oxygen movement. The swelling in the ankles or legs is associated with heart failure, adds the professional magazine.

Wanjiru was already planning to establish a foundation to raise awareness about this ailment, having set up several social media posts on the same. Her daughter bravely promised to take up whatever cause her mum had began and complete it. She rests.

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