Martha Namugabo: ‘I had already possessed faith’ to save my husband with my kidney 

(Last Updated On: 15 February 2024)

Hoima I Martha Namugabo is married to Dr Anthony Buhangamasio, 37. Her husband was diagnosed with a chronic kidney disease and the only relief for them was a transplant.

Although the mountain was long to climb, Martha was already ‘possessed with faith’, she said.

On Saturday, February 10 and Sunday 11, 2024, tndNews sat her down. She spoke beyond gratitude:  

What was it like to donate your kidney to a man you dearly love?

I think I was very weak but this has made me very strong. Recently I found out that when you give a spare you become twins forever. God gave us twins, He gave us a spare. I have not had any challenges since I donated my kidney. The only challenge I got was recovering from anesthesia. So, I have not had any challenges because I have one kidney now. I am very strong and very proud about it because I used to see what Anthony used to go through, it was hell and now when I see him better, I see his quality of life is back: how proud should I be? I thank God, it’s not for everyone; it’s Godly and only God can use you to do what I did.

Was there any external encouragement from your friends pushing you to support your husband and to believe that one day it will be well?

Actually, no! I was alone in this fight, everyone had given up until I stood out to show them that this fight is winnable, we can defeat it. I was alone, even my husband picked faith after I had possessed faith. It was self-defence for myself until the last moment we went for a transplant we could not believe life would be better.

I think it was also because of the message I got from the beginning – when the nephrologists said what would save him was a kidney transplant – everyone could suggest their own things – mine was set on a kidney transplant. I knew what the definitive treatment was, I knew what was needed. So, when everyone was saying, ‘Let’s try herbal, let’s do this,’ in my mind I was very sure what the nephrologists said was the right message, it was a kidney transplant that he needed.

Though the mountain was very big to possess, I was very sure I would possess it. I was alone, I will tell you the truth.

So you lost friends all along?

No, I didn’t lose friends but they didn’t believe in me in the beginning, what was going to happen. I would say, ‘You know what, this is what we are faced with, we need a kidney transplant’ and everyone would say, ‘Ooh’oo! Where do you begin? Getting a donor is very hard.’

I would say, ‘I will donate’ and everyone would say, ‘Don’t.’ I remember my parents said, ‘Please don’t, you have known him when he was an adult, why should you? You have two little girls, who will take care of them if all of you are weak? What if he doesn’t get back?’ 

I remember we visited a counsellor (Madam Sandra, the other name I have forgotten) in Mulago – the nephrologists sent us to visit her. There I confirmed what was already in my heart that I could give Anthony his life back by donating my kidney.

Madam Sandra reassured us, ‘I am also a kidney donor, I also donated to someone.’ 

I was moved and said this is doable. I didn’t lose my friends but they did not believe in me. They saw a mountain that cannot be possessed and yet for me I saw a mountain that I could possess. They later on came to terms with my faith. Most important was my mum. She came to terms. I remember my father telling her, ‘If she has decided, she is an adult, I can’t stop her.’ So, she (my mum) came on board and we moved it together. 

And my motivation was my darling children. I have two girls with Mr Anthony and my girls deserve their father. I remember I told someone, ‘I can get married if he passes away but my children will not get a father’. So, when I looked at it in that way it gave me more energy to become stronger because I looked at my girls and they needed their father.

When a demand to have a kidney transplant was communicated to each of you, was it an instant decision that you took or was there a second thought? 

I remember when Dr Joseph Ogavu talked about it. His question was, ‘Would you be interested in donating to him?’ I was like, ‘If we match, why not!’ So it was really very instant, I didn’t need a lot to think about it. Saving a life doesn’t need time but as I told you it was a mountain, I needed people to come on board to move with me but from the beginning, I knew it was doable and possible.

What is your message to young women like you?

The Bible (1 Corinthians 13:5–) says that ‘love is not selfish, it is not proud’. I am not proud because of what I did, no! Everyone could do it. I remember one time I asked myself, ‘Could I do this for someone else’ and I said, ‘Yes.” I could do it for someone else. I was telling my husband sometime back what people look at and what they can get out of the relationship: it’s your commitment to someone and when it comes to children, you are no longer two; you are four or three. So, you need to look at you, him and the people you brought up. I grew up in a broken family and it’s the least I want for my children.

I want to encourage the ladies like me: there is nothing you cannot face. As ladies, we can do whatever and our lives do not end with our husbands, it is more than that. We can do more than what we have vowed in Church. What I have done is not part of my vows in Church, but it is more than the vows before the Church. We have to do our relationships on a family basis, look at the family; give our families priority. That is what I look at and what motivated me. 

Also read: Exclusive: Dr Anthony Buhangamaiso speaks after his successful kidney transplant 

I look at family, not as my husband. You see when you look at it as a husband, you will see a lot of weaknesses, his frailties and say he doesn’t deserve it. But when I looked at it as my husband, my children, my father, oh! There is a different motivation.

To the women who are like me, you can do much more than you think you can do.

Relatedly, you talked about the vows, loving him and your family. What message do you have for him and the women going through the same?

It’s very exhausting. Caring for a kidney patient is greatly exhausting, I tell you, Milton. One time you want to give up. But I want to encourage them (last time I was talking with Stephen Galogitho about wanting to talk with women taking care of husbands). You know we used to do our dialysis at Kiruddu Hospital. In Kiruddu, most of the people taking dialysis are men. All the men come with their wives, the few women who come have their husbands by their sides, they come with other relatives, sometimes they come alone and I felt like, ‘No.’ 

Maybe families are not giving in a lot. I want to encourage caretakers – like I said it’s very exhausting because your patients have to be in dialysis three times a week and in the machine for four hours and after that, there are side effects of dialysis. You can’t do other work, you can’t do anything but my message is: you cannot give up on them.

I remember Pilly Bongo Lutaya said that ‘they (men) need love’. What they need is love and understanding. Let’s not give up on them. The other thing is that we have got the wrong message. We have been in Kiruddu and the message there is how long you stay on dialysis. Dialysis will not improve our lives, dialysis does not improve the quality of life; it simply prolongs your life but not the quality of life. Now, what the Doctor (my husband) says is this message: dialysis centres should be put across.

Recently, I was travelling to Kampala and I remembered how hard it used to be for us traveling to Kampala. Sometimes we could not get the fuel for the car and we would get on a taxi to the new taxi park. From the new taxi park we crossed to the old taxi park – we could not move that distance to the old park. We could find a lot of challenges. Then when I was travelling back, I was like, ‘Why should someone be travelling from Hoima – Bunyoro to Kampala – 290km to only get a dialysis session of 4 hours?’ Why don’t we have dialysis centres here in Hoima that will take care of patients from Bunyoro sub-region?

There is a story I usually like to talk about: there was a lady who comes from Kihukya, more than 40km from Hoima town. She used to come from Kihukya to Kiruddu and we usually do dialysis and go back. One day when she was going back, she had an accident and got a fractured pelvis. So, why should people be travelling that long journey? People should get the right message. I believe that all our success still belongs to Dr Joseph Ogavu’s message from the first day: what you need is a Doctor’s transplant.

Was there money for it? 

We didn’t have a single coin. We had already spent on treatment but because of the faith and belief we had we were able to go through. I think people should get the right messages. I want these caretakers to get the right message. 

“Sorry to interject,” says Dr Anthony: In Kenya, they don’t treat you for dialysis for life; you are just on dialysis preparing you for a transplant. They don’t have patients on indefinite dialysis.

Martha restarts: The message should change. We were in Kiruddu and some people were saying, ‘We have been on dialysis for nine years’ but when you calculate the amount of money you need for dialysis for nine years it’s the same money you can use to get the transplant and get a better life. I can tell you, that transplant is affordable. We started this campaign with zero. We know James William Mugeni who created all this awareness; I do not know him personally. I have known him because of this, he created a campaign and people came on board and supported us. 

Dr Anthony interjects: We realized that in Kenya, nationals pay less. If we also take it up as a government and make sure we also have transplants it means it will be cheaper for us, you can also get a transplant on your national health insurance.

Martha restarts: So, let’s have a national kidney fund where the government commits some money. If people had not come to rescue Anthony we would have lost a surgeon. In the whole Bunyoro sub-region, we only have two who are back at home working. Losing Anthony meant that we had lost one. And do you know how much it takes to train him? He has trained for nine years. The quality we are losing is high and when we look at the people doing transplants, they are not local people, very few of them are poor: they are people who have studied and are national treasures that we need to prioritize.

Galogitho Stephen, Martha, Dr Anthony (m) Denis Mugisha and Milton Emmy Akwam.

I think if we prioritize renal health we can save because this is a national issue and deserves to be attended to. I have heard they have started doing transplants but we have done one and we celebrated in December. Do you know how many we have? We should have done over ten. That week (on December 7, 2023), one transplant surgeon did sixteen kidney transplants at Mediheal Hospital Eldoret in one week, and here we did only one and celebrated. Have we achieved? We have not achieved this, we have more than 1,000 patients on dialysis who need kidney transplants. Why didn’t we do ten?

Watch the video below for more, and gratitude from Martha and Dr Anthony for the overpowering support each individual gave them.

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