Time cures more than the doctor, so the saying goes.
In the case of Blessing Kathure and Favour Karimi, twins who were born conjoined three years ago, both time and doctors have cured them to the extent that they are now thriving separately after being surgically separated at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).
This month marks a year since the two girls left the main KNH theatre detached from each other, following a 23-hour surgery conducted by a team of 60 experts who cut through a mass of flesh and bone that they shared on the lower backside.
It has been an eventful 12 months for the twins, who turned three on September 4, and their mother Caroline Mukiri.
The twins, having left a KNH ward on June 15, went with their mother to their aunt’s home in Tutwa, Meru County, and had to make adjustments considered obvious to children their age. For instance, they had to be introduced to domestic animals.
“They were very afraid of chickens. They were even afraid of cats,” said Ms Mukiri.
“After a few weeks, they got used to them. But I had to be very watchful to ensure they weren’t trampled on by cows. They were never afraid; they never thought cows could hurt them.”
Because they had spent almost three years in a secluded room at KNH, even the concept of darkness was foreign to them.
They had grown up in an environment where the light was always on in their room at night.
“They had never seen darkness and I thank God because when we reached Meru, it was dark but they didn’t appear afraid,” said Ms Mukiri.
“They would sometimes look up and think it was because of a power outage. You would hear one say, ‘Sister amezima stima (The sister has switched off the lights)’,” she added.
On Thursday when the Sunday Nation met them, they were a bubbly, playful pair.
They had just woken up from their afternoon nap when they burst out of their house with their mother.
Favour was all energy, outrunning the rest while Blessing preferred to cling on to her mother’s hand.
For Ms Mukiri, it has been a year of mixed fortunes.
She was a worried mother when she left KNH in June, calling upon well-wishers to help her.
“As I go back home with my children, I am asking for help from Kenyans,” she had told a local daily then.
Today, Ms Mukiri works at KNH.
After sending three job applications to the hospital where she had asked for “any job, even if it is cleaning” that would match her education level of Form Four, in July she got a surprise call. She had been offered a job in the hospital’s human resource department.
She reported to work on July 12, leaving the twins with her sister until September 4 when the girls were brought to Nairobi.
“I deal with staff files: opening new ones for staff and arranging them. Sometimes I help staff who want to follow up on something,” she said of her job.
And for doctors who conducted the surgery, they have spent the last one year monitoring the girls, and they can now celebrate their success.
According to Dr Joel Lessan, a paediatric surgeon who led the paediatricians that planned and executed the separation, all is well with the twins so far.
“Currently, they are growing well separately and are putting on weight well and since discharge, they have been attending follow-up surgical and nutritional clinics as well as going for physiotherapy,” he said.
Favour, who for instance had a slight limp from a tendon deformity, is now well and able to walk properly.
Developmentally, Dr Lessan says: “Their development is excellent. We are happy.”
Dr Lessan explains that doctors are carrying out imaging tests that include X-rays, CT and MRI scans to show the state and relationship of internal organs in the girls’ bodies.
This is because doctors will need to rectify some of the temporary interventions they made on the girls’ bodies.
“After imaging, the surgery to create anal openings will be planned,” he said. “And if all is well, there will be surgery by April 2018 and all stomas (artificial openings made into a hollow organ) closed by October 2018.”
As doctors plan to help Blessing and Favour lead as normal a life as they can, their mother is settling in at the KNH staff quarters.
Getting a house from her employer was a relief because with the girls’ father having left when she was pregnant, she is the sole breadwinner.
“I have a househelp who takes care of them and I expect that they will go to school in January,” Ms Mukiri told the Sunday Nation on Thursday. Her house is a five-minute walk from her workplace.
Now, Ms Mukiri grapples with the usual challenges that face parents with identical twins, like having to buy identical sets of clothes.
“There is a time I went to Gikomba and couldn’t find matching clothes, I was forced to buy clothes that were at least similar. When I returned, it was a headache as both liked one,” she said.
Their appetite is also improving and that makes her happy.
Another development she has noticed is that Blessing loves to sing while Favour loves reading.
The events of the last one year, and even those preceding the historic surgery, have taught Ms Mukiri many things, one of them being that Kenyan doctors are qualified for the job.
Before the surgery many were the times she was told to look for another hospital.
“Some people would tell me that KNH doctors have no experience, or that they are never serious with their work,” she recalls.
She said she has also become more prayerful and her daughters have also learnt to pray.
“They are very prayerful,” she said of the girls. “Even when I’m dozing off in bed, one calls me, ‘Mum, come, let us pray’. It is something we must do before sleeping. I’ve known more about prayer.”