How ‘marathon granny’ gave ailing boy a new lease of life

Sunday December 7 2014

Joyce Nduku, 60, began running 10 years ago on her doctor’s advice with her only desire to keep arthritis at bay. Little did she know that her yearning to live healthy would save the life of another person many years later. PHOTO | NATION

Joyce Nduku, 60, began running 10 years ago on her doctor’s advice with her only desire to keep arthritis at bay. Little did she know that her yearning to live healthy would save the life of another person many years later. PHOTO | NATION 

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When she began running 10 years ago on her doctor’s advice, Joyce Nduku’s only desire was to keep arthritis at bay.

Little did she know that her yearning to live healthy would save the life of another person many years later.

Ms Nduku, 60, started participating in long distance running at the age of 50 in 2004.

Although family and close friends doubted the doctor’s advice was the best for someone her age, she believed in the doctor and in her ability to literally hit the ground running.

“It does not require much to take up running and considering the fear I had of developing arthritis from the pain in my knees, I did not think twice about it,” says Ms Nduku.

She started jogging in her neighbourhood and quickly got hooked to it - to this day. And running has taken her places to the point of referring herself to a “sports tourist”.


A retired field nutritionist with Kenya Medical Research Institute, she has acquired a muted celebrity status in the local marathons. She is one of the founders of Urban Swaras, a running club which started in 2006. The group runs around the city every Saturday .

Urban Swaras also organise charity runs and they have managed to raise funds to support children living with cerebral palsy in Kibera and Waithaka slums in Nairobi.

Although she did not start running for competition, she has consistently clinched the top position in her age category in various races countrywide since 2005.

She has participated in the Lewa, Stanchart, Ndaka-ini and Mwea marathons. In 2008, she ventured further afield and took part in the Chicago Marathon.

In 2010, she participated in the Two Oceans 56-km Ultra Marathon in Cape Town which she completed in 5 hours 35 minutes.

And after running for 10 years, Nduku’s zeal in marathon ended up giving six-year-old Terry Mutuku Musyoka a new lease of life. This is what she considers one of the greatest feats since she started running.

We found him running playfully around his parents’ compound oblivious of the happenings around him.

His mother, Doreen Musyoka, radiates joy she could not have had just a year ago.

It is now four months since Terry had a surgery to rectify a life threatening birth defect.

“Terry spent all his days locked up in the house because of the problem he had since birth. Today when I see him run around with other children, I can’t help but reminisce how far we have come,” says his mother.

It all began in 2008 when 38-year-old Doreen gave birth to her fourth born son, through normal delivery in a hospital in Kangundo.


Like every mother, she was ecstatic to hold her bundle of joy.

However, her gleam would soon fade away four days after delivery when she noticed that her son could not excrete.

“I was really enthusiastic to hold my Terry. A normal boy he was. But even then, I could tell that something was amiss. His stomach was swollen and the veins around his abdomen were dark,” Doreen explains.

“The swollen stomach and difficulty in breathing was a clear indication of an impending trouble and so, when my sister, who was visiting told us that her neighbour’s child had the same symptoms, we got concerned,” she continues.

Terry had been born without an anal opening.

On referral to Kenyatta National Hospital, the agony would be extended by the long waiting list which meant it would be months before they’d be attended to.

A heart-broken Doreen could not hold back her tears when she looked at her son writhe in pain in the hospital’s nursery.

“After a long process and months of struggling to get Terry’s name on the surgery list, we finally managed to secure a bed and a day for his operation,” she says.

However, the best that the doctors did to save the then five-day-old baby’s life at that stage was a minor surgery to create a temporary excretion passage on his abdomen.

Doctor Francis Osawa, a surgeon at Kenyatta National hospital says, affects one in every five thousand children globally.

“The boy’s condition is a common case which the hospital handles on a daily basis,” says the doctor. Patients are required to use special bags known as colostomy bags.

The doctor explains that  imperforate anus is rated as the second most prevalent condition that babies are born with in the hospital.

But although Terry had a short term relief following the surgery, the family could not afford the colostomy bags.

“All we could afford was to cover the baby using old clothes and wrappers and make sure they were hygienic at all times,” explained Terry’s mother, who had to leave most things to nurse the child full-time.


Terry had to make do with the temporary solution for the next five years, until Ms Nduku got wind of his predicament.

“When my sister-in-law narrated the story of this young boy, I was touched and felt that I needed to do something ,” says Ms Nduku.

Having worked at Kemri and formed networks in hospitals, Ms Nduku first organised for colostomy bags to assist the boy.

“After getting colostomy bags for the boy, I wanted to do more to give him a permanent solution to the problem. I printed T-shirts for sale, brought my friends and family on board and got donations from those who could not participate in the run,” says Ms Nduku, a single mother of two sons.

On May 3 this year, on Ms Nduku’s 60th birthday, she ran a 25km charity marathon through which she raised Sh350,000 for Terry’s surgery.

The surgery was finally conducted in June and by July, Terry had been issued with a clean bill of health and has since enrolled in a nursery school near his home to start a new journey.

“I chose to dedicate my 60th birthday to the welfare of the boy and it was my desire to have him enrolled in school,” she says.