, THIKA, Kenya, Feb 21- Most people turn away when they see him; some won\’t even sit next to him in a public service vehicle while others simply stare.
But then that\’s just how life has been for 19 year old Dennis Gicheha, who has a fist size tumor in his eye that has disfigured his face and almost cost him his eyesight.
And Dennis who has known no other life just wants to live a normal life and become a doctor.
For now however a Sh400,000 deficit stands between him and his dreams.
"I was born normal but when I was two and a half years old, I developed a pimple on my head that wouldn\’t go away even after treatment. It instead started growing and the size of my head increased," he says.
"When I was in class one, the headmaster discontinued my learning out of fear that I could seriously get injured. So he gave my parents an ultimatum to get me medical attention, first, before I could resume my studies," he explains.
By this time migraines had kicked in and his eyes would periodically pain.
Dennis was then forced to seek further medical attention and Nairobi seemed like the Promised Land, in that regard.
And after medical examination, the doctor\’s verdict was immediate surgery – but that just remained on paper; the medical expenses proved too high for the humble family that calls Gatundu North home.
Dennis had a tumor in his right eye.
"When I came to Nairobi, I started raising funds for my treatment but it was never enough because I still had to buy medicine to help me cope which was not easy. Then in the year 2002, I got a sponsor who took me to Kenyatta National Hospital where I had an operation to take out the tumor," he says.
He stayed at the referral hospital for one year… waiting for his newly formed wound to heal.
And after getting a clean bill of health, the 19 year old went back to school to pick up from where he\’d left. But ill luck followed him and the growth was back.
"When I went back to school around 2005 my eye started swelling again and I had to come back to the capital city to raise more funds and I still have to buy pain killers which cost me Sh2000 and last three months but the greatest gift would be good health," he explains.
Dennis now requires a second surgery whose cost stands at Sh500,000.
He has so far raised Sh100,000 from Good Samaritans who he meets in public service vehicles. Once in a PSV, Dennis distributes flyers with a brief history of his condition hoping that someone will be kind enough to give him any lose pocket change.
But even this is not an easy task.
"Some people won\’t even look at me when I give them my flyer; some passengers don\’t even bother reading the contents of my flyer and throw them away and some bus conductors don\’t allow me onto their buses. But at least there are those that take time to read them," he says.
The highest amount Dennis has ever collected was Sh1,300 which he put into his bank account. On a good day, an average of eight passengers donates to his cause.
He\’s also fully aware of the stares that he gets from people but he has somewhat become immune.
"I tried wearing caps but I would look like a cartoon because of the tumor so I stopped. I don\’t have many friends because of this illness but that\’s okay- at least I have a supportive family," he says.
Dennis who has been in and out of school since the tumor started growing says his age mates are now in Form three. And although he knows he\’ll never catch up with them, Dennis knows that he will one day achieve his dreams.
"For now I just have to continue raising funds and I know I will get there. Doctors have told me time and again that my facial appearance will be restored once I get the surgery," he says with finality.
Dennis\’ brother, Eric Njoroge, also wants him to get assistance. Njoroge who turns 25 this year says that he prays for his brother to become independent.
Njoroge who has seen his brother live through the illness adds that some neighbors cite witchcraft as the cause and try to justify it.
"Every time I walk with him people stare and ask a lot of nasty questions so sometimes it\’s even hard for us to cope. But all I want is for Dennis to get treatment so that he can at least get eyes that look like mine. Because he cannot do anything with his eye in that condition," he says.
Mary Njoroge, Dennis\’ sister-in-law also notes that the stares make it worse.
"Dennis likes to walk but sometimes it becomes hard to walk with him because of all the silent questions. Then there are those who come up to us with all sorts of theories and it doesn\’t matter how much explaining we do, because they would simply not understand," she says.
But with all these going on, the science loving Dennis who is also an ardent supporter of Manchester United still hopes and dream. His favorite food remains chips, chicken and a cold fanta pineapple.
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