In my genes: How family is coping with inherited cancer genes
1 weeks ago, 00:08
Just when Frankline Mugendi was about to learn to walk, his world was plunged into darkness. His eyes suddenly developed a high sensitivity to light and discharged some fluid.
His parents, Elias and Joy Kithinji, were rightfully concerned and took him to Chogoria Hospital. The hospital referred the boy to Nairobi's Kenyatta National Hospital for specialised care.
Mrs Kithinji stayed with her son for almost five months at KNH before the ophthalmologist gave a bleak diagnosis - their son's eye had to be removed if he was to live.
It was an easier decision for the couple to make if it meant saving their child's life. After losing two children in their infancy, the couple did not want the experience again.
When Elias and Joy got married in 1970, they had dreams of a happy home filled with children. They knew the children would bring them joy. Yet, 48 years down the line, the couple narrates agonising stories of cancer and deaths that have stalked them.
In 1971, the couple got a baby boy, but he died a year later. Four years later, they were again blessed with a baby girl. She, too, did not live beyond one year.
The two cases left the couple worried, but they could not help the situation. They did not know what caused the deaths of their children.
Silently, the devout Christians questioned whether they should believe the rumours swirling around their superstitious community that they were cursed.
Despite this blow, the two did not lose hope and in 1982, they gave birth to their third baby, Frankline.
The couple would later come to know that their son had a rare form of eye cancer called retinoblastoma.
In some cases, a child is born with a mutation in the retinoblastoma gene they inherited from one of their parents.
As a result, their family portrait is uncanny. It is hard not to notice that of their three children and six grandchildren, most are either blind or have had one of their eyes removed due to the cancer.
The fourth boy, Erick Mutai, also had his eye removed in KNH in 1987 when he was a year old.
What surprises the family is that their fifth born, a daughter named Hellen Karendi, was never affected like the other siblings.
The problem has been passed down to a third generation. What Karendi got spared, for instance, afflicted one of her children who died from the same condition. Another had an eye removed.
The Standard found the Kithinjis working in their small coffee farm in Karagani village of Maara Constituency. They have been hoping that the farm's yield will at least ease part of the burden they bear.
In the first instance, as we came to learn later, the couple thought we were the Good Samaritans they had been praying for.
We introduced ourselves and told them of our mission and they decided to get out of the farm so we could talk.
They led us to their ...
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