Weathering The Storms – A Tale of Trauma and Triumph

March 2, 2024


Associate Research Scientist


Picture this: You’ve recently completed your Ph.D.; you’re eagerly expecting a set of twins for whom you have waited for a long time. Just when you believe that everything has fallen into place, your world grounds to a sudden halt. This month, we highlight Beatrice’s story.

Briefly Introduce Yourself: I am Beatrice Waitherero Maina, an Associate Research Scientist at APHRC. I joined the Center in 2011 as a Research Officer. In 2021, I graduated with a Ph.D. in Public Health from the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, following a fellowship award by the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA). I also have a Master of Arts in Population Studies from the University of Nairobi and a Bachelor of Education from Kenyatta University.

What’s Your Story? Generally, I have lived a healthy lifestyle. However, due to some reproductive health issues, I have had to embrace motherhood later in life through Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) (it is important to note because it matters in my journey). After several consultations and failed treatment cycles, I was blessed with twins. I was overjoyed! Despite a successful pregnancy and caesarian delivery on February 19, 2023, my life took an unexpected turn.

What Happened After the Delivery? I had no postpartum complications after delivery other than slightly lower hemoglobin levels. The twins also didn’t have any issues, so on February 21, 2023, I was discharged and put on iron supplements. Unfortunately, later that night, I had difficulty breathing, and my chest was congested. The following day, I went to the hospital, and after a few tests (blood work and CT scan), I was given medication and left for home. That night, my condition deteriorated, and I was rushed to the hospital with the assistance of an ambulance. By the time my doctor arrived, I had suffered a cardiac arrest. It took about 20 minutes for them to resuscitate me. In the process, I suffered a minor stroke/brain trauma and was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism (a sudden blockage in pulmonary arteries that send blood to the lungs), postpartum cardiomyopathy (described as a heart failure that happens between the last month of pregnancy and five months after delivery), and pneumonia. I spent a month (from February 24) in the hospital, with 20 days in a coma in the Intensive Care Unit, battling for my life. 

How Did This Affect Your Life? When I left the hospital, I couldn’t walk, talk audibly, or perform any activity of daily living without full or partial assistance. The stroke affected the back of my brain, the cerebellum, which deals with gross and fine motor skills, balance, and coordination. My experience was harrowing! Being dependent on other people was a tall order for me, and not being able to take care of my twins broke my heart. Secondly, health care is extremely costly in Kenya. We spent close to KES 7 million for treatment due to the complications after delivery. Thankfully, my family, colleagues, and friends came together and raised funds for the medical bill, including the initial follow-up care and part of the home therapies. When I look at my journey, I base it on how far I’ve come (I was literally and maybe clinically dead, with a heart function of 25% coupled with a stroke and pulmonary embolism). It has not been easy for me, my family, friends, and colleagues, but the progress is tremendous. I can comfortably say I am now at approximately 90% recovery, and with continued physiotherapy and occupational and speech therapies, I believe I will fully recover.

What Was Your Recovery Journey Like? My recovery has been a journey focusing on physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects. I was given a second chance at life, I am a testimony of God’s doing and grace. I have had several setbacks, including recurrent seizures. I always lived in fear that my time with my twins and family was short. One particular time, I even interpreted a surprise birthday party organized by my family as a way of them saying goodbye because my time on earth was nigh. I was convinced they were hiding something from me. I visualized my funeral and wrote my eulogy in my head. What worried me most was how my family would deal with my demise. Throughout this process, I have had to go through therapy and get psychosocial support, and with prayers, I overcame the tough days. We are now at a stage where the doctors have begun to reduce the dosage of some medication as we move towards recovery.  

How Have You Managed to Bounce Back? I currently have a nursing assistant who assists with daily living activities. I am attended to by three therapists (speech, occupational, and physiotherapists), totaling seven sessions per week, and regular review sessions by a cardiologist and neurologist. My cognitive abilities were not affected by the brain trauma, so I can carry on with work in the best way I can. In addition to the medical intervention I received, which was very timely, the psychosocial support and encouragement from my family, colleagues, and friends has been wonderful. I have repeatedly been told I have a great support system at home and work, and I agree. While at the hospital, the nurses always asked about the many people who visited me. I would proudly tell them they were my colleagues, and you could see the admiration on their faces. I knew I could not let all these people down by losing hope. I had to bounce back.

What Drives You? What’s Your Motivation in Life? My children are my greatest motivation. They challenge me every day, and I want to be there to see them grow into adulthood. We crawled together when I was re-learning to walk. Part of my healing journey is seeing my twins achieve significant developmental milestones. They turned one this year, which has been exciting for me. As a single mother, I want to be there for my twins and provide for them in the best way possible. My family is closely knit. And they have journeyed with me throughout my sickness, providing support and motivating me. I also want to resume my work duties in full, where I can drive and meet with colleagues in the office or elsewhere and perform my daily activities without assistance.

What Do You Enjoy Most About Working at APHRC? In 2011, when I joined APHRC, I realized I had a platform to strengthen and broaden my skills, working with a wide range of researchers. I had never been in a place where people were so at ease, even when working under pressure, where a sense of belonging was so profound, where you could address your seniors by their first name, where no one cared about titles or your dressing as long as you were decent. I enjoy my work and the challenges and thrills of working with different people as a team to address a common goal. Some of the issues I work on resonate with my real-life struggles as a human being, giving me the impetus to work harder. After my illness, I decided to return to work. While most people thought it was quite early, staying home and doing “nothing” was worse. I needed to attempt to return to my normal duties, though at a limited capacity. This has worked tremendously and has helped improve my speech, reduce anxiety, and fine motor skills, among others. There are a few bad days, but we rest and keep moving. I am very thankful to my colleagues, especially those I work directly with because they have been very patient with me.

Parting Shot? Every person needs accessible and quality health care, cost notwithstanding. Psychosocial support for individuals and families with chronically ill loved ones is critical. A plea to employers to accommodate rather than dismiss chronically ill employees if they can perform their duties without compromising their health. For those who believe in God, prayers are vital to your healing journey. You must drive your healing process; healing starts from within. It is okay not to be okay, and it is okay to ask for help. I am grateful to God and everyone who has been a part of my healing journey.