On a hot Sunday in July 2016, Anthony Maina Ng’ang’a finally met a woman who, for a number of days, had been asking him dozens of questions via messaging platform WhatsApp.
The meeting happened at the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in New Delhi, India, as Anthony’s systems were coming to grips with adjustments that had been done after a major surgery and the heavy medication that followed.
The operation that was conducted on June 13, 2016, saw 65 per cent of his mother’s liver surgically removed and attached to his, a process that slammed the brakes on a rare liver disease that had been plaguing him for more than five years.
The inquisitive woman, Ms Ruth Muthoni, was scheduled to undergo the same procedure as Anthony’s mother on August 8, 2016, at the Medanta Hospital, about two hours away from the hospital whose medics had operated on Anthony.
Sixty-seven per cent of Ruth’s liver was to be excised and given to her elder brother, Mr Peter King’ori, who had the same rare disease as Anthony.
She had been posing the many questions to Anthony as she sought to understand everything about the procedure, having obtained his phone number from a former classmate.
That communication between Ruth and Anthony, under trying circumstances; that brief first meeting at the hospital in New Delhi, has progressed into a marriage — a love story between a liver recipient and a liver donor that was brewed in India and whose main ingredient is a rare liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis.
“When we had that first encounter, I don’t think any of us knew it would end here because, at that time, in the situation we were in, we were just trying to get information and share it with each other,” Anthony says.
Ruth says that they arrived in India on a Thursday and went visiting Anthony and his mother Eunice Wangari on a Sunday.
“They were looking really good. It was just a month after surgery and I couldn’t believe they had undergone the operation,” says Ruth.
On hindsight, she believes Anthony and his mother were putting on a brave face to give her assurance ahead of her operation.
“To some degree, I think they were acting. They didn’t want to discourage us. They were sick but they just wore smiles, something that really encouraged us,” she says.
The two maintained their communication until the day Ruth and her brother Peter went for surgery. Liver transplant operations are scheduled in such a way that the donor is the first to be opened up so that doctors can be completely certain about the quality of the liver.
Once medics are satisfied that the liver is good enough to be transplanted, the opening up of the recipient’s chest starts. Ruth says her surgery lasted 14 hours while her brother’s, which was delayed for about an hour, went on for 18 hours.
Ruth’s surgery having been completed, and as her wound healed, it was Anthony’s mother — her future mother-in-law — who signed as her caregiver.
“She took care of me while my mum acted as my brother’s caregiver,” Ruth says. “Anthony couldn’t visit me in the hospital because he had not recovered fully. So, we continued chatting over WhatsApp,” Ruth reveals.
It took over a month before Ruth recovered enough to move around. In those early post-surgery days, doctors had instructed her to walk a lot. That is where Anthony came in handy. He visited her the same week she was discharged and encouraged her to follow the doctor’s advice.
“I didn’t feel like doing it; but he managed to push me,” she remembers.
“After that, he took me to visit my brother who was still admitted in hospital, and while we were there, it was him who was taking care of me instead of my mum and my aunt. He was wheeling me around in the wheelchair, which was really nice. I think my mum and my aunt felt like I was in good hands. They didn’t have to keep checking behind their backs to see what I was doing,” narrates Ruth.
Those were the beginnings of their relationship.
ln days to come, Anthony would take Ruth to a mall nearby, which they say is the only place a person could find “normal” food because Indian food is typically jammed with spices that wrestle down the palates of the uninitiated.
“He was living about two hours away from me via train,” she remembers. “On that day, he arrived early in the morning and we had breakfast, then we went to the mall and he walked me round.”
IS THIS LOVE I’M FEELING?
Anthony could not help falling in love. He admits that the attachment began when they were exchanging messages on WhatsApp.
The “how are you feeling today?” or “what happened today?” and such questions, he says, drew him closer to Ruth, who graduated with a degree in Information Technology from Strathmore University in 2015.
“She didn’t realise that as she was talking to me, it was also helping me recover better because at that time, not many people would talk to you continuously,” says Anthony, who graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from Dedan Kimathi University in 2014.
“In a foreign place, it can get boring and lonely. So, most of the time I found myself just talking, and when she came to India and they went through the surgery, I felt like it was now my turn to just keep her company, talk to her while she was recovering; just be the comfort that she would need because she had done the same for me,” adds Anthony.
So, who among them was the first to say “I love you”?
“Of course, him,” says Ruth, laughing.
Via Sunday Nation