‘I’m no celebrity, help me’

When Austin Luciano heard that government was going to shell K20 million to airlift famous comedian Eric Mabedi to India for a kidney transplant, he was excited.

The swift response to the actor’s SOS sent a message to the 24-year-old kidney failure patient that the State realises its duty to ensure every person in need of medical assistance not obtainable in the country’s hospitals gets quality treatment abroad.

Waiting for a turn: Austin bares his pent-up pain

However, Austin has waited for a turn for nearly a decade.  Frail and visibly in pain, he wobbled into our newsroom to share his story of agony.

Throughout the interview, he kept asking: “Am I forsaken because I am not famous?”

Ministry of Heath spokesperson Joshua Malango promised to trace the patient’s medical history.

“Many people suffer in silence because they count on a doctor’s word of mouth instead of written recommendations,” he said.

Austin has been operated on over 10 times since he was diagnosed with kidney failure in April 2015.

Twice a week, doctors insert tubes close to his heart to clean up blood. As the blood circulates through the tubes to a machine, a filter removes toxic substances.

This has left a heavily scarred chest with numerous stitches, pipes and a bladder.  But what bothers him most is not knowing that the machine weakens his bones by filtering calcium and other vital elements together with extra liquids.

Rather, he knows that the procedure does not cure kidney failure. According to the American Kidney Foundation, dialysis does some of the work of healthy kidneys, but one will need this treatment for life unless a kidney transplant is conducted.

He explained:“At first, my mother took me to Queen Elizabeth Hospital [QECH] in Blantyre. where I received treatment for over a week, but the condition was not over.

“Then, I was in Standard Seven at Sawali Primary School in Balaka, too young to understand what doctors were writing in my book. I only realised that I had kidney failure in 2015 when I collapsed in class at Mloza Community Day Secondary School in Lilongwe.”

The son of subsistent farmers in the countryside of Balaka was in Form Two when he spent a week at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) in the capital city three years ago.

 “I couldn’t eat anything or drink water without vomiting. That was the time a doctor told me to go for dialysis though it was not a lasting solution.”

On his return, he was forced to quit school as he needed dialysis twice a week. 

He later relocated to live with his step brother in Blantyre so as to be closer to QECH where he is among 10 patients who take turns on five dialysis machines every Monday and Thursday.

At times, he walks over 10 kilometres from his home in the hills of Khama in Machinjiri Township to the hospital. This usually happens when his sibling, a builder with five children who survives on piecework, has no money for a return minibus trip worth K1 200. When this occurs, he sleeps in the corridors at QECH because dialysis “leaves me too weak to walk back home”.

 For him and other patients, an ambulance is only provided to take them to KCH when the machines at QECH break down.

“My bones are getting weaker every week. I experience high blood pressure regularly. My health is failing. I need a kidney transplant and my brothers and sisters are willing to donate a kidney,” says the lastborn in a family of eight.

His mother, Hilda, says her son faces untold agony.

“He cannot go to school, cannot work or face another day with hope,” she says.

Austin, who wanted to become a doctor, made a similar appeal when he appeared on the State-run MBC TV’s Reach Out and Touch in July 2015. However, the one-off appearance on TV did not trigger the desired change despite several rebroadcasts.

Now, he has a word for the brains at the helm of the country’s healthcare system which, in his words, usually moves fast when celebrities and politicians are taken ill.

“I want to remind government that I am still alive and I need a kidney transplant which no hospital in the country offers. Stop discrimination because all of us cannot be musicians, dramatists or athletes.  All kidneys are equal. We all need to be treated equally according to our needs.”  n

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