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TALES OF COURAGE: I survived open heart surgery

Thursday January 3 2019

Damaris Muema

Damaris Muema. PHOTO| COURTESY 

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Damaris Muema was ironing clothes one afternoon in 2016 when she began experiencing some rapid heart palpitations. She set down the iron box and lowered herself to a nearby seat. The pounding in her chest persisted, making her feel faint.

She knew at that moment that something was terribly wrong. Panic washed over her making her forget the special occasion of the day; it was her 24th birthday.

“I was worried and at the same time very confused. Here I was in a foreign country in Dubai with no one to confide in except my boss with whom I'd lived with for only three months. How would he react to the news that I was suddenly feeling unwell? But what choice did I have? I decided to take the risk and approach him. My boss rushed me to the hospital and upon examination, it was discovered that I had a hole in my heart.”


Her first thought was to fly back home to seek treatment but the doctor advised against it saying that her condition put her at great risk. Furthermore, Damaris needed an urgent surgery to avoid further complications such as a heart failure or a stroke.

She stayed on for six months while taking medication and once her health stabilised, she flew back to Kenya.



“When I landed back home, I checked into hospital for fresh tests. I was still in denial. An ultrasound confirmed my worst fears, I indeed had a hole in my heart. I started attending weekly check-up visits at Moyo Clinic in Mombasa.”

The Coast General Provincial Hospital (CGPH) was scheduled to perform the very first open heart surgery in two months’ time and this made Damaris very hopeful.

“Unfortunately, I missed out on this first surgery which was free of charge. My family felt that the surgery was too great a risk and warned me against 'digging my own grave’. They expressed doubts in the hospital’s capacity to conduct the surgery given that this was their first open heart operation. I was reassured by their plans to have a fundraiser and send me to India for treatment. However, these plans never materialised. Again, the reason they gave me was that the operation was too risky and they would not bear the thought of losing me.”


Growing up, Damaris spent a lot of time in and out of hospital treating various symptoms. When her condition was diagnosed in Dubai, she discovered that she had been born with that hole in her heart. This explained why she fell sick often as a child.

The fact that she had lived with that hole well into her adulthood made her consider the point of view held by her family and friends. She continued to manage the condition by taking medicine. Two months later, the hospital announced its second open heart surgery and this time, the doctor told her to prepare for the operation.

Damaris published a book to give hope by
Damaris published a book to give hope by sharing her story. PHOTO| COURTESY

“I needed Sh300,000 for the surgery and my savings were much less than that. My family was still scared of the surgery hence they didn’t help me raise the cash. They believed that drugs would solve the problem but I did not want to be enslaved by medication all my life. Undeterred, I emptied my savings and paid a deposit that allowed me to undergo the surgery.”

Damaris spent six days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) after a successful open heart surgery. Her story was published in the Daily Nation and this attracted several well-wishers who helped her clear the hospital bill.

“My family learnt of my successful surgery when my story got published in the newspaper. Of course I was afraid of undergoing the operation but I needed my suffering to stop. Thankfully, the staff at the hospital we kind and caring and this made the whole process a lot easier. Today I can swim and walk for long distances, something which I was unable to do before. I can also sing without being short of breath. In fact, three months after the surgery I released my first worship songs album.”

Through her journey, Damaris says that her eyes were opened to the plight of patients suffering from numerous cardiac conditions.

“I recently published my first book, The Power of Bouncing Back which seeks to give hope that no matter how far below you sink, you can always rise up. I have learnt to believe in myself even when others don’t and to always put God first in everything.”


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