In June last year, Martin Gaitho, 58, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer that left him with immense back and chest pain. Two months prior, Martin had started experiencing a low back pain that also affected his rib area, interfering with his normal life. “I remember during that period I couldn’t bend or even sit,” he says.
On the day of the interview, the Healthy media team meets Martin and his wife Loise at the newly established bone marrow transplant (BMT) unit located on the sixth floor at Nairobi West Hospital. Martin is here to talk about his continuing recovery from multiple myloma, having undergone a bone marrow transplant at the unit two months ago.
Martin has come to the hospital for the third checkup for blood levels. For the first time in a couple of months, he was even able to drive himself and his wife to the facility.
When he started experiencing pain, Martin went to a local hospital thinking that it was just a normal discomfort and he would get medication to return him to normalcy.
But that was not to be. The agony persisted and he had to go back to the hospital for more tests. “They included blood and urine tests, which led the doctor suspecting that I had bone marrow cancer.”
This news, he says, was overwhelming. “I had to seek a second opinion, which eventually brought me to Nairobi West Hospital where two months later, the diagnosis was confirmed again.”
At this point the doctors insisted that he had to start his treatment and one of them suggested that he be placed on a queue for bone marrow transplant procedure at the hospital.
“This came as a sigh of relief because I didn’t know that such a procedure could be done in Kenya. The doctors later explained what to expect medically, effects of the transplant to my body and the costs involved,” he adds.
Cost of treatment
Although the cost of the treatment was quite high, Martin says it was the best option compared to hospitals abroad, which came with other expenses like travel, accommodation and other daily needs.
Dr Rohini Radia, resident consultant hematologist and bone marrow transplant physician at Nairobi West Hospital, offers that the first step was to conduct an autologous stem cell transplant, a procedure often used to treat blood cancers such as leukaemia and lymphoma.
“A patient’s healthy stem cells (blood-forming cells) are collected from the blood or bone marrow before treatment, stored, and then transplanted back to the patient after treatment. The stem cell transplant replaces a patient’s stem cells that were destroyed by treatment with radiation or high doses of chemotherapy.”
In July last year, Martin began his chemotherapy in preparation for the procedure. The chemotherapy went on for five months until November. “This was nine doses of strong chemotherapy in between a number of blood tests and the procedure was carried out under a team of doctors from various facilities,” he explains.
According to Dr Radia, when assessing the patient for BMT, you need all the information about the disease. “We are talking about the diagnosis, how they have done the treatment, among other things, and so it is important to communicate with the primary doctor who has been looking after the patient.”
After a couple of hours, the procedure was completed and Martin was put on medication and in isolation for a few days.
At the moment, Martin is waiting for another test slated for March 7 while he is still using post medication for the transplant to prevent infection.
Dr Radia says performing the procedure locally makes it easy for the patient to be monitored during the recovery process. “It is important to have medical follow-ups for a patient who has undergone such a procedure because they may get complications.
According to Prof Andrew Gachii, chief medical director at the hospital, access to quality, affordable specialised healthcare in Kenya has been a major pain point for most patients who have to travel abroad for advanced medical procedures like a bone marrow transplant. “Having this procedure done at home is a sigh of relief to many families,” he adds.
Only a few African countries perform autologous stem cell transplant.
In Kenya, the service is only offered at Nairobi West Hospital.
Last year in October, the hospital launched the first BMT unit in the country that provides a broad range of integrated and patient-centric services for the diagnosis and management of all kinds of blood disorders in adults and children, including cancers of the blood.