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Dealing with albinism

When Austin Kinyanjui was born 14 months ago, the first thing his mother noticed about him was his golden hair, which set him apart from all the other children.

She was bewildered and could not understand why her son was different. Even the nurses at St. Teresa’s Hospital in Kikuyu were perplexed, and they said they had never seen anything like it.

“When I saw his hair, I was shocked. His eyebrows and eye lashes were also the same colour. I waited for it to change and be normal like the other children’s, but it did not.

So I went home with my child and we lived a normal life,” says Austin’s mother, Elizabeth Wambui.

It was only six months later when Wambui took Austin’s elder brother George to hospital for a few check-ups when a doctor stopped her after he spotted little Austin.

“We were at Mbagathi District Hospital when we met a doctor who told me that Austin has albinism. He told me not to expose him to the sun as his skin is very sensitive. The doctor was also kind enough to give me two bottles of sunscreen to use on my son and told me that I needed to take Austin to see a skin specialist,” says Wambui.

Sunscreen

At six months, Austin started using sunscreen on his skin and has used it ever since. His mother has since taken Austin to an eye specialist who confirmed all was well, but Austin will have to use spectacles as soon as he reaches four.

“I also took him for cancer screening last month and I am happy to report that his skin is perfect. The doctor, however, told me to watch out for any scars on his skin and ensure I go for frequent medical check-ups,” says Wambui.

Albinos are at a higher risk of developing basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer) and are required to wear protective clothing and also use sunscreen.

“A bottle of sunscreen costs Sh 1,800 and this lasts for three months as we only apply it on Austin as he goes out in the sun,” says Wambui.

This means that the family has to make adjustments to their family budget and save a little extra for expenses such as sunscreen for their son living with albinism.

“We are also advised to pay special attention to him and always look out for him especially when he starts to go outside to play,” says his father Fredrick Muthua.

But the extra expense is a small price to pay, as Austin’s family has learnt to appreciate this jovial and playful tot.