Imagine a situation where a teenager has to be carried like a baby simply because he is too weak to walk on his own. This was Kuhumuza Ampuriire’s life for seven years. However, he is now able to walk and speak and when we meet, he is the guest of honour at an event organised by the Kololo Rotary Club.
Gone is the frail boy that would have to be carried by his mother and in his place, is a man full of hope and forever grateful that he has been given a second chance.
When he was 13 years old and enjoying his first year of secondary school at St Kaggwa High School in Bushenyi District, Ampuriire started suffering from severe headaches and stomachaches.
The following term, the illnesses intensified and he started losing appetite. Because he was unable to eat, he started losing so much weight that the school administration sent him home for medical attention. “I was walking to class one day and I fainted. I still remember the confusion I felt finding myself lying on the ground unable to get up. From that time, I was unable to walk, talk or do anything by myself,” Ampuriire recounts.
Ampuriire’s mother, Edith Mbabazi, took him to a clinic in Bwizibwera, Mbarara District where doctors diagnosed him with malaria and stomach ulcers. He was given medication and sent back home. However, there was no improvement by the time he completed the dose; in fact, his condition just deteriorated. Mbabazi decided to take him for further medical checkup at Mbarara Referral Hospital where several tests were done but doctors were still unable to diagnose Ampuriire’s illness.
“It was devastating to be told that there was nothing wrong with him. The teenager who had excitedly joined secondary school was now like a child unable to walk or even talk. I had to carry him everywhere. The costs were also taking a toll and I lacked money to pay for his supplements, tests and medication,” Mbabazi recalls.
Mbabazi reached out to NTV, which aired Ampuriire’s story on February 11, 2016 during the seven and nine o’clock news bulletins. Mbabazi could only hope that she will get the help needed to save her boy, who at the time was 17. When the story aired, it attracted the attention of Kololo Rotary Club members who started mobilising funds for his treatment.
“This was actually an unusual project that was decided upon by a WhatsApp group. Normally such a project goes through a number of procedures such as identification, appraisal, and approval but Ampuriire’s case was different. We saw the clip, discussed it in a WhatsApp group and started mobilising funds immediately,” Bonnie Kalanzi Nsambu, the president Rotary Club of Kololo, says.
According to Nsambu, they mobilised funds for Ampuriire to undergo fresh tests at Mulago National Referral Hospital.
With the help, Mbabazi says she was reenergised and vowed to keep taking care of her son until he received the needed treatment. “I had lost hope, especially knowing that I would not be able to get him the help he needed. However, with help from the Kololo Rotary club, I vowed not to quit until my son recovered,” she says.
The rotary club collected $7,000 (about Shs25m), which was able to cover the cost of the tests both at Mulago National Referral hospital and in India.
“When all the tests were done, doctors were still unable to find anything medically wrong with Ampuriire yet his condition was worsening. It was then decided that he should be flown to India and the club started mobilising funds for air tickets, visas and treatment expenses,” says Nsambu. Ampuriire and his mother left for India in June 2016. “When we reached India, he underwent a number of tests and still doctors were unable to form a proper diagnosis. They instead prescribed him food supplements and I was told to give him soft foods and a lot of fluids since he would consequently vomit everything he ate,” Mbabazi recollects.
Back in Uganda
After two months, Ampuriire was declared safe to travel back to Uganda. However, upon reaching, because he was still in terrible shape, Ampuriire and his mother rented a house close to Mulago National Referral Hospital since he still had to undergo frequent checkups. When Mbabazi came back from India, she had $2200 (about Shs8m) which she decided to give back to the Rotary Club. However, they let her keep the money which she invested in buying a motorcycle to join the boda boda business. She used this money to pay for Ampuriire’s food and supplements. The club also gave her money to buy a cow which would provide milk for Ampuriire.
Rosemary Byanyima, a senior consultant radiologist at Mulago National Referral Hospital says since Ampuriire had difficulties in swallowing and retaining food, it was discovered that Ampuriire’s problem was caused by the nervous system. “The nervous system controls many activities in the body including swallowing. We believed that Ampuriire’s system had a defect since medically, his body had no structural defect,” says.
Byanyima says since there was no specific diagnosis for Ampuriire’s condition, doctors had to treat the symptoms. For instance, he was put on a number of food supplements and advised to stick to a nutritious diet to which he responded positively. However, because he had been bedridden for a long time, he had lost function of his limbs but through physiotherapy, the 20-year-old has since regained his speech and is learning to walk again.
“Ampurire started gaining weight in 2017 and in 2018 his appetite and health had improved greatly. In 2019, he started speaking although limited to only those at home. I still cannot believe that this person full of life and hope is the same boy I used to carry like a baby,” the grateful mother shares.
For Ampuriire, life has just begun. He is excited to start from where the illness cut him off. “I am looking forward to starting school. I would be at the university in my second year and probably in my second semester. But I am grateful for the chance to be able to start again,” he says.
Having been inspired by the role doctors have played in his life, Ampuriire wants to become a doctor although his ultimate dream is to serve the church. “God willing, my dream is to become the archbishop of Uganda,” he says.
Treatment for malnutrition
Treatment for malnutrition depends on how severe the malnutrition is and what is causing it. After an assessment and diagnosis by a medical professional, sufferers may need dietary advice and supervision from a dietitian and/or a nutritionist in order to safely change and improve their eating habits in the long-term. For those suffering from severe malnutrition and/or showing evidence of health problems that have contributed to the condition, hospital admission may be required.