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Sickle cell anaemia won’t hold me back

Young, energetic and full of life is what strikes you when you meet Elizabeth Mcleans who is battling sickle cell anaemia.

She was born with the condition, which has seen her in and out of hospital countless times.

However, being sickly has not deterred her from achieving her goals.

“I have learnt to deal with the condition in spite of the challenges,” said Ms Mcleans.

She was diagnosed with the disease 10 years ago after a series of painful crises (fatigue, pain in the joints).

“At first doctors thought it was malaria. I used to go to hospital in a lot of pain and because malaria is a causative agent when there is a crisis, they did not know what was making me susceptible.

“When my family moved to Nyeri, I was taken to Consolata Mathari Hospital where doctors did a sickling test which was positive. I was in class four then,” she said.

“My parents sought a second opinion at Aga Khan Hospital in Kisumu which confirmed the results. I recall the doctor calling my parents into his office and I overheard him telling them that most sicklers don’t live past 18 years. So I started crying. My mum tried to console me but couldn’t because I was very inquisitive. I wanted to know why I couldn’t live past 18,” added the 22-year-old.

She said it took her time to accept that she was not a normal child and the hospital became her second home.

Diagnosis

“I remember not doing my class six syllabus as the pain was too much, the injections were horrible, the veins had collapsed and my mum had to deal with that because she was the only one who could stay with me at that tender age.” 

“Slowly I started being withdrawn from duties in school (I was in boarding school), my parents requested hot water and a special diet and to some extent the teachers were willing to help but there were those who couldn’t understand what I was going through and thought that my parents were spoiling me.

The condition is also triggered by anxiety. Examination time is an anxious period and she was not spared either. 

“There were times people thought that I was avoiding exams. I actually sat my KCSE in hospital but I thank God I passed and joined university. I was put on medication to control the crises and reduce malaria parasites. But since the condition mutates, I am now using different drugs, not what I was on eight years ago. I also take folate to boost my blood level. Blood count should be between 13-15, but mine is normally around 7-10. There was a time it fell as low as 2.9.”

Ms Mcleans is on medication which she takes daily. 

She is grateful to her friends and family who have ensured that she lives positively. 

“I learned to stand up for myself and battle it out in education. I completed my university education at Kenyatta University this month,” she added. 

Although there are hitches that come with being sickly, she has not opted for a transplant to correct the condition. 

She may not present herself as a weakling or someone who is suffering but Ms McLeans admitted that there are challenges of being sickly such as stigma associated with people who are struggling with sicknesses. 

Take drugs

“I also hate taking medicines and this condition has put me in a situation that forces me to take pills daily and get injections quite often,” said Ms McLeans. 

Her advice to other sicklers; “Sickle cell anaemia is not a death sentence. I have lived with it for 22 years and done everything like a normal person even though some doctors had ruled out possibilities of living past 18.”

“I’m always grateful to my late mother who helped me through the critical stages. Don’t let the disease overpower you and you will triumph over it. It’s all in the mind.”