Joab Wako

By March 8, 2019 Brand Ambassador

At 24 years old, I was diagnosed with End-stage renal disease or kidney failure. At the time I was working at a factory, that made car interiors, as a manufacturing engineer. I was shocked, to say the least. How could this have happened without my knowledge? Doctor’s say chronic kidney disease is a silent killer, and millions of Kenyans live with it undiagnosed until, like me, it is at the last stage. The last stage, also known as kidney failure, is brutal. Changing my lifestyle to include dialysis took me months to get used to. I had to learn how to manage my fluid intake, take my medication, and eat the right diet; a difficult feat when I was learning my body’s new physical limitations that in-turn affected me emotionally, and mentally. As a result, I was demoted at work. The lack of support groups for young people with kidney failure made my transition harder. I felt isolated and like my friends could only sympathize, not empathize like I really longed for; how could I vent about post-dialysis cramps with someone who has never been on dialysis? The limited number of support groups in the kidney disease spheres makes our journey a lot more difficult.

Young kidney failure patients are encouraged to seek transplants because of the freedoms a transplant gives us. I was counseled by a social worker after about 6 months on dialysis and urged to look for a donor. Kidney transplant waiting lists, in the United States, are on average 5 years long. In Kenya we don’t do cadaveric organ donation, so we are limited to live donations. I didn’t know where to start? How do you ask someone for a kidney? I told my whole family what I was advised, and didn’t push the ask too much after. I longed to get off dialysis, but pressure on my family for a donor seemed unreasonable. Lucky for me, my older sister responded to my need. She said she would do the donor tests, and see if we were a match. We matched! And the preparations for a transplant began.

We went to India in search of a laparoscopic kidney transplant, because she is still young and wanted a minimally invasive surgery, which reduces the size of the transplant scar. The tests for a kidney transplant are very intense, but my sister and I persevered; growing much closer during the whole procedure. There is something beautiful about altruistic donation; no words can describe. The love for one to give selflessly surpasses all human understanding. Today I live with one of her kidneys, and have not done dialysis since; a reality I am grateful for.

Since the transplant, I founded an organization called Transplant Education Kenya. The main objectives of this organization are to educate the public on altruistic organ donation, and hopefully make cadaveric organ donation a reality in Kenya; this would ease the pressure off living donors, and create a path for organ failure patients to a valuable second chance.

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