When Rosemary Nankabirwa, 37, was flown to Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya on Sunday morning, there was hope she would be fine.
Shortly after her arrival at the hospital, Florence Naluyimba, a health reporter of NTV posted on her Facebook timeline: “Our Rose is in critical condition, very fragile...on life support now. Please #Pray4Rosemary. ”
Unfortunately, she passed on soon after. By 4pm, social media was awash with condolence messages. Everything happened so fast.
Just a week ago, the family, which had initially preferred privacy for their patient, appealed to the public through NTV for financial support so that she could be taken for specialised treatment. Indeed the public responded spontaneously and raised Shs110m within three days.
What she was suffering from
Ms Nankabirwa had Adrenal cortical carcinoma, a disease caused by a cancerous growth in the adrenal gland. It was detected in December.
Mr Ronald Bisereko, a brother of the deceased, says Nankabirwa’s body swelled to a point they could hardly recognise her though she was originally a slender girl. They thought she was eating a lot of junk food.
With pains and a mysterious swelling, her mother Ms Rebecca Kibirige bought her a ticket and she returned in December last year. Medical tests at Mulago Cancer Institute detected a cancer and she was operated on in January. One of her adrenal glands was removed.
Her condition, however, kept deteriorating. Dr Henry Bukenya, one of the doctors who had been attending to her, says the diagnosis was late.
“By the time of the diagnosis, the cancer had already taken over the breast region and was fast spreading to the heart,” Dr Bukenya said.
Catherine Nayiga, her younger sister says Nankabirwa was in a lot of pain up to the end of her life but had hope that God would heal her, at least for the sake of the people who loved her.
“I kept reading for her social media messages from her fans and friends and these encouraged her to be strong. A message from a five-year old child of Lohanna Academy who donated Shs20,000 to her cause allegedly from a rat was outstanding. She had been screaming in pain but when I read it to her, she calmed down and said she would be strong for people who had hope in her,” Ms Nayiga said.
She adds: “She was strong up to the last hour because even at the time she was flown to Nairobi, she was chatting. Unfortunately, God decided to take her at the time most people least expected.”
Neat and organised
Growing up, Nayiga says Nankabirwa was principled, tidy and neat. Nayiga smiles as she recalls how she used to sneak into her sister’s room to pick jewelry and despite her efforts to put it back the way she found it, Nankabirwa would know that someone tampered with her belongings.
Made for TV
Right from childhood, her siblings say Nankabirwa wanted to be on TV and when she achieved it, she aspired to work with CNN hence going to University of London to pursue a Master in Journalism.
Though the third born among her mother’s children, Ms Nayiga says Nankabirwa drew a timetable and apportioned each one a house chore. “No matter the sex, she assigned everyone a cooking, cleaning, washing and mopping day. She was a mother goose,” Ms Nayiga recalls.
Right from childhood, Ms Nayiga says their mother took them for morning mass before going to school. Nankabirwa grew into a staunch catholic. “She was the most religious of us and became like mummy. She would pray every morning, lunch time and evening.”
Ms Faridah Nakazibwe, an NTV anchor and a close friend agrees. “She could not get children before getting married but always took turns and helped me baby sit my girls whenever I needed her,” she says.
On why she never got married, Ms Nayiga says most of the men who approached her were non-catholic, a factor that was top on her list for a husband.
Friendly and jovial
Talk of anybody to represent at friends’ weddings or company parties and Nankabirwa would be available. She loved fun and enjoyed every opportune moment.
Friends in the media remember her as cut out for TV. “ She was a broadcast gem,” NTV news manager Maurice Mugisha eulogised
Born January 4, 1978 to Brian Kabanga and Rebecca Kibirige in a family of five. She attended Bishop’s School Mukono before joining Melvin Jones Lions Academy in Nairobi, Kenya. She then got a diploma in Mass communication from the Andrew Crawford Media Training School.
She worked at Radio Waumini in Kenya in 2004 and then joined Kampala FM and WBS TV in 2005. She worked at NTV between 2006 and 2011.
April 13: Body arrives at Entebbe Airport.
April 14: Requiem mass at Christ the King Church, Kampala. Vigil at Kanyanya.
April 15: Burial in Kanoni, Masaka