After years of being heart broken, Alice Nduta met Mathew Odero, a man whose gentleness touched her and she swore to marry and protect him.
Alice told Nation: “I swore I would stop drinking… for his sake.”
Mathew was a true knight in shining armour. He overlooked her epilepsy and her addiction to alcohol. Now, four months into their marriage, Alice calls Mathew “my husband,” and he responds with “baby” at his smiling wife.
Mathew says he had prayed for a wife who would walk with him through the seizures, the financial and emotional cost of living with the neurological condition.
As the world marked International Epilepsy Day on February 10, the Oderos shared with the world how their search for healthcare for epilepsy led them to collide with fate.
Epilepsy is a medical condition that affects the nervous system and often presents in seizures caused by abnormal and excessive electrical discharges in the brain. These seizures lead to loss of consciousness.
The cause of the disease is not known but some studies in Kenya have linked it to birth trauma, infections of the brain and head injuries.
The Ministry of Health estimates that the prevalence of epilepsy is about 20 cases in every 1,000 people. It is these complications that took Mathew to seek care in Karen Health Centre in 2014.
Unbeknown to him, lurking in the shadows behind the clinicians was his future wife.
Alice was once a patient in this clinic, and after her seizures were put under control for more than three years, she was employed here as an administrator.
This has been the policy of this health centre and two others in Riruta and Mathare in Nairobi since 1982. The centres are run by Kenya Association for the Welfare of People with Epilepsy (Kawe).
In the course of the care that patients are given at a subsidised cost, the association gives them an opportunity to earn a living from the clinics.
The clinics’ administrator Tedi Oburu says that due to the subsidised cost of medicine, the centre receives several patients. Most of the patients seek treatment here after visiting several witchdoctors, herbalists and seers.
“Many people do not know much about epilepsy, and still attribute it to bad luck or witchcraft,” she said.
Before its expansion in 2015 when Kawe received funding from Kenya Community Development Foundation to set up two Epicare clinics, the number of patients have been overwhelming and many patients including Mathew often missed treatment.
Mathew told Nation that his circumstances weighed so heavily on him that he did not notice Alice’s smile as she pulled out his file and reminded him of his next visit to the facility.
One day, she gathered courage to know Mathew beyond his name.
“I told him I liked his watch, and his sweater,” Alice said.
“I would see him wearing it and I would get extremely happy for the rest of my day,” she said.
That compliment, opened Mathew’s eyes, distracted him from his usual sadness. After the pleasantries, contacts were exchanged, and later many phone calls and text messages. The two would soon begin visiting one another.
This, more than the epilepsy, would be the test of their relationship. The meeting at their homes revealed the differences in their upbringing: Alice came from a humble background while Mathew came from a wealthy family.
Mathew had been praying to marry from family similar to his.
While he was happy with the reception he got from Alice’s family, his mother did not warm up to his bride to be.
“She came home to visit us smelling alcohol and my mother became furious,” Mathew said.
He gave Alice an ultimatum to tell him why she was drinking, and why she hardly spoke to him about her life when he had poured all his life to her.
Mathew wanted to make a crucial decision about the future of their relationship.
Scared that she would lose her new found love, Alice opened up about a disappointing relationship that had left her heart broken due to her condition. She said, this, drove her to the bottle.
That evening, Alice told Mathew about a dream she had had about him.
She told Mathew that she saw a rich woman around Mathew. The figure in her vision had been ghastly. The woman looked like someone who was suffering from a disease she could not name, she was about to harm Mathew.
The dream came as a shock to Mathew because he had not shared any information about the relationship that he was planning to pursue with anyone, not even Alice.
He said: “That is the day I knew she was the one and I promised that I would not care about her drinking, her epilepsy or her family and that I would protect her.”
Alice said: “I promised to be a better woman for him because he had taught me so much within a short period to accept who I am.”
Since then, the couple crafted a schedule to help each other navigate their sickness.
From 2016, Mathew and Nduta worked to know each other and to win Mathew’s family over as they both worked on overcoming her alcoholism.
He took her to his church, introduced her to the outdoor activities such as cycling that he loved. She inspired him to battle his epilepsy by reminding him to take his medication regularly as he was still experiencing seizures. Alice has not experiences any seizures for more than three years.
Mathew says: “I have been cycling, I have gone to Magadi, Kitengela and now I feel like I can get my driving licence back.”
They tied the knot in November 2019 in a 300-guest ceremony in Nairobi.
Even with the fear that their children may develop the neurological condition, the two are eager to have children and say they keep praying and adhering to doctors’ advice.