•The belief amongst residents of Kipsereman is that the doctors will get to chop off your eyes if it has a problem or worse off give you a goat’s eye as an alternative.
•To compound matters, one of their children, a 16-year-old girl in school, was also diabetic and on treatment.
The smile behind Silas Kiptoon hides the misfortune that befell him and his family. The 50-year-old forest officer and his wife Miriam Wanjiku, 44 years, were in 2017 diagnosed with diabetes.
Later, their daughter, a form four candidate at the time, also developed diabetes.
Silas began developing tiredness, frequent urination and thirst which made him visit the Kabarnet County Referral Hospital where he was diagnosed with diabetes. He then started attending the hospital’s diabetes clinic for management as an out-patient.
In 2017, he noticed that he could not see properly. The vision was so bad he had difficulties in reading and could not drive his car to discharge his official duties, which involved driving through forests taking care of animals and writing reports.
One day, while coming back from his errands, Silas almost knocked down an entire police barricade. Luckily for him, the officers at the barricade identified him and understood his condition. With no charges levied against him, the police officers gave him a stern warning not to drive around. "If not for the police, I don't think I would have put my car aside and seek help," Silas says.
He was forced to get someone to drive him around, which was an added expense on his income, which could barely feed and clothe his family and educate his seven children. He contemplated early retirement and was uncertain about the future of his children since he was the sole breadwinner for the family.
Silas resorted to seeking the services of a traditional healer. He was given a liquid-like substance to place in his eyes. Religiously, Silas followed the healer’s prescription without fail. Despite the side effects he experienced, such as teary and inflamed eyes, he was still hoping for a change.
His wife, on realising there was no change in his vision, advised him to seek professional medical attention but he was reluctant. “The belief amongst residence in Kipsereman is that the doctors will get to chop off your eyes if it has a problem or worse off give you a goat’s eye as an alternative. That alone made me not dare set foot in a hospital,” said Silas.
He reported the deteriorating vision to the nurses at the diabetic clinic, who referred him to the eye unit for screening where he was diagnosed with early cataract in both eyes due to diabetes. At this point Silas became extremely concerned because his wife had also been diagnosed with diabetes advanced stage (R2) in 2018.
Her treatment commenced immediately (both avastin injection and laser). To compound matters, one of their children, a 16-year-old girl in school, was also diabetic and on treatment. Silas could foresee his wife and child also becoming blind and wondered about the other children’s fate.
At the eye clinic, he was booked for surgery. However, this was not possible as his blood sugar was high, a contra-indication for surgery. The blood sugar was eventually controlled, and first cataract surgery done in June 2017 during World Sight Day commemoration.
The second eye was done in 2017 during an eye camp. Before cataract surgery, his vision had perception of light (PL) in one eye and counting fingers in the other eye. After cataract surgery, vision improved at 6/9 in the left eye and 6/36 in the right eye.
However, this improved vision reduced after two weeks! On further specialised screening, Silas was diagnosed with advanced stage diabetic retinopathy (DR) in both eyesHe was put on on DR treatment (both laser and avastin treatment) in 2018, which he continues with to date with scheduled follow ups.
“Imagine I can now even spot someone from a distance of 100 metres. If this is not a miracle, then what is it ?” he says.
Silas is a beneficiary of the Fred Hollows Foundation’s supported Cataract and DR programmes in Baringo County, funded by ANCP.
He says his family is lucky to have these services available in their county referral hospital. Even though the distance is far, they are better off than the communities in other regions of the country.
“I have decided to become an eye health ambassador, to raise community awareness on eye health,” he says.