Early January this year, one doctor appealed for blood group O+ donations on his Facebook page. A seven-year-old girl needed a second operation to remove thousands of worms from her stomach.
The appeal was made by Dr Emmanuel Ayodi, the medical superintendent at the Vihiga County Referral Hospital. I visited the hospital the next day, intending to file a story on the strange case. Dr Ayodi was not in his office, so I searched for him around the wards.
I found him inside a ward particularly crowded with old people and a few youths. It was a cardiovascular clinic. I later learnt this was the situation every Tuesday and Friday.
Dr Ayodi smiled at me and said: “Welcome.” He saw my distress over the situation and added: “Joseph, you need no introduction to this.”
In 2017, I lost my father to a heart-related disease. Two months later, my mother was diagnosed with heart blockage.
The Sh300,000 I had saved for farming was only enough for a few tests at a private hospital in Kisumu. She needed a further Sh600,000 for specialised treatment in Nairobi.
Instead, she was admitted in Kisumu for one month, until the family ran out of money. She didn't get the pacemaker but now survives on medication.
Still at the clinic, I thought only a cardiac centre could help the patients. I told Dr Ayodi I was ready to run 400km to Nairobi to raise awareness on cardiac health and the money required for a treatment centre. My target is to raise Sh60 million.
Dr Ayodi agreed to partner with me. I trained hard for two months. All my friends, colleagues and relatives pledged to support me. What I didn’t know is they offered their support so quickly because they suspected I could not make it to Nairobi, what with my my 118kg body weight.
Doctors were also concerned. Dr Ayodi said: “Anytime you feel you can’t make it, please don’t strain yourself.”
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
Vihiga Deputy Governor Patrick Saisi flagged me off at Vihiga County Referral Hospital on March 5 with pomp and glamour.
The first day was easy because so many people ran with me for 20km to Kisumu. I easily covered one out of the proposed seven counties to Nairobi.
The police also escorted me, which made traffic easy. On reaching Kisumu city, some curious people saw us running and asked: “Iko nini tuwasaidie (What’s up we help you?)”
I told them we were running to raise money for a cardiac centre. They then dismissively said, almost in unison: “Oh, tulifikiria iko shida (Oh, we thought there was a problem),” as if that was not a problem.
On the second day, I visited Kisumu Governor Anyang' Nyong’o. He was impressed and said people from the two counties would benefit if Vihiga would have a cardiac centre and Kisumu a cancer centre.
I also visited Kisumu County Hospital cardiac ward, and it was as crowded as Vihiga’s.
On day two, three youths joined me on the run from Ahero. They were tipsy and only did 10km. Upon arrival at Awasi, they said: “Toa kitu unajua steam yetu imeishia kwa hii mbio yako (pay us now, we’ve run out of energy running for you).”
At Awasi, some rowdy youths demanded to know if ‘Baba’ (former Primer Minister Raila Odinga) had approved the race.
Past Awasi to Kipsitet, the terrain began to get rough. It was extremely hot, with temperatures hovering above 25 degrees celcius.
On March 8, I had my first injury, a sprain just below my left hip. Going uphill was extremely painful. My physiotherapist Nelson Azenga forced me to undergo thorough medical check-up after every 6km.
On the chilly morning of March 9 at Kaitui, Kericho county, a young boda boda rider overtook me and stopped in front of me. I panicked as he run his hands through all his pockets as if searching for a penknife. Instead, he gave me a Sh20 coin.
“Hiyo tu ndio nilikua nayo leo, sijabeba mtu (That’s all I have because I haven’t had any customer yet),” he said, then drove away into the foggy morning.
I arrived in Kericho town late afternoon amid a heavy downpour. I was received by Health executive Erick Ekawaum, who was surprised that I had covered 105km in five days.
BLISTERS AND BRUISES
I took two days’ rest in Kericho and held a lengthy discussion on health issues with Deputy Governor Susan Kikwai and Vihiga Deputy Governor Saisi.
The following day, I ran 22km in six hours under heavy downpour to Chepsir. I woke up the next morning to find so many blisters under my feet and bruises in my thighs.
For the first time, I ran without my escort pick-up, which returned to Kericho. Truck drivers, bus drivers, matatu drivers and other road users began getting used to me on the road. They hooted and flashed their vehicles’ headlights whenever they saw me.
Six kilometres to Mau Summit Junction, on the Kericho-Nakuru road, police warned me on running without security on that stretch. I pleaded with them to provide me with the security, and they obliged.
For the 10km from Total on Eldoret-Nakuru road, my feet had 12 blisters, mostly caused by my weight and wrong running shoes. I could not go on.
My physiotherapist rushed to Nakuru and brought proper running shoes lined with therapeutic innersole. The following day, I was ready to run again.
On March 22, a bus nearly crushed us. This was a real scare. But we raced smoothly through Sachagwan and Salgaa.
At this point, my crew, including logistician Priah Evusa and our escort driver, had a tense morning because this is a well-known black spot. Luckily, we had no accident.
But my injuries were wearing me down. Both heels, my ankles and my left knee were so painful. I lost three toenails as I approached Nakuru town.
Saisi was really supportive and just like in Vihiga, Kisumu and Kericho, he joined Nakuru Deputy Governor Erick Korir in flagging me off.
Nakuru county took me 14 days to traverse. I passed through more than 10 roadblocks manned by police, who kept encouraging me.
At Kikopey, the only woman in the team fell sick. She had been handling all the logistics. She was treated at a local clinic. I was also fatigued.
With my left foot off the road, women selling fruits along the road joined me, singing akorino songs. This gave me lots of energy.
Towards Gilgil weighbridge, I met an MP who declined to support my cause. She was tongue-tied upon seeing how far I had come.
More than setting up a cardiac centre, I hoped my run would create awareness on cardiovascular health. I am impressed because sometimes I met people who had heard about the cause and shouted me on.
I arrived in Naivasha on March 22. Luckily, I was joined by a team of 20 youth who came from Vihiga to motivate me to tackle the massive Kinungi hill.
They took to the road full of energy at Father Kaiser’s mausoleum. Kinungi is an approximately 18km stretch uphill.
But 12km into the hill, I suffered a muscle injury on my outside right ankle. At this point, the Vihiga support team was tired and returned home.
We suspended the run at the Nakuru-Nyandarua boundary. The following day, I ran less than 10km into Nyandarua county before entering the sixth county.
The weather had begun to grow really cold. At Uplands near Limuru, an old man was amazed to see me sweating profusely.
“Nimekaa miaka mingi sana bila kuona mtu anatoka jasho nyingi hivi (I have stayed many years without seeing someone sweat like this),” he said, wishing his grandchildren were there to witness the rare event.
I spent my Easter weekend in Limuru with my colleague journalist George Mugo, who took me around the town.
On April 1, I arrived in Kiambu town via Limuru. This route was very lonely, with tea plantations everywhere. I found a huge crowd at the governor’s headquarters.
My arrival neutralised the tension between Governor Ferdinand Waititu and bar owners, who claimed the governor was interfering with their business. Waititu used me as an example that only a sober person can run from Vihiga to Kiambu.
I went through Banana heading to Wangige market, where I was invited by Christian Health Association of Kenya to create awareness on heart issues.
I spent the night in Kikuyu, to await the D-day: Sunday, April 8.
On the first week, my sweat was salty, but as on week three and four, my sweat was like clean, drinking water. This was perhaps because of the thousands of litres of water that I took along the way.
I finally crossed the finish line at the Railways headquarters in Nairobi, on April 8. I was happy to see my family, friends and relatives waiting to receive me, after a gruelling 400km.
Unfortunately, many people are yet to honour their pledges. So far we have raised Sh3 million, with the county government giving Sh2 million.
A week later, I returned to Mbale, where the heart patients, the people who motivated me to run, were so excited to see me.
If you'd like to contribute, the paybill number is 446370, account name JJ HEART RUN, Account number 2038982942 Barclays Bank Mbale Branch.