2013 – Liver Transplant Surgery
2014 – Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography – Bile Obstruction
2015 – Lymph Node Obstruction
2016 – Bone Marrow Test Procedure
2017 – Bile Obstruction
2018 – Cyst Removal, Stent Removal
2019 – Lumpectomy Surgery
This is a timeline of operations that Madimo ‘Mimo’ Mokgosi has gone through, and her story is one that will make you hold on to hope, prayer, and God. It sounds like a testimony whenever she recites the traumatic events that began taking place in 2008 when she was just 19 years old.
Specialist surgeon, Dr Thabiso Malefahlo defines Hepatitis as an inflammation of the Liver, and this could be due to infection or an injury to the liver, even if it is autoimmune. “There are certain infections and viruses that can cause Hepatitis. We have hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E, those five different viruses can all cause Hepatitis in their own capacities”, she explains.
The World Health Organisation reported that even during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are people dying every 30 seconds due to Hepatitis related illnesses. Mimo could have been one of the victims years ago. She was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis, which occurs when your immune system mistakes your liver cells for foreign aggressors and creates antibodies to attack them
As we observe World Hepatitis Day, we journey through her road to recovery and learn about how she intentionally chooses to live her life, gracefully.
Q. Take us back to life before the official diagnosis. What was it like?
(Giggles) I have always been the healthy child amongst my siblings. My older sister had a condition when she was born, and my brother as well had a health issue. I was born healthy with no issues, until I got to matric. I just suddenly had a nosebleed, which occurred every day. I went to the hospital, and they burnt one of the veins in my nose. This was the beginning of the fight against autoimmune hepatitis, but they didn’t pick it up.
Q. Usually as Christians, we always resort to prayer when we go through difficulty. How was your prayer life after getting diagnosed and when your family went through financial difficulties?
Post the diagnosis (takes a moment before she continues), I remember this one night, where it really was my worst night. I wouldn’t say I prayed, but rather, I was demanding healing. I was like, ‘’God! First of all, I did not put myself in this situation, and you’re going to take me out, and you’re going to find that liver for me.’’ This was a conversation where I wanted God to just hear me out. I prayed in faith, I believed. A few days later, I got a call around 03:15 AM. I usually don’t even answer my phone at that time, but I answered that particular call. It came from the hospital, and they said they had found a liver for me.
Q. You lost your mother at the age of 10, did you ever think that life would have been somewhat easier if you had her supporting you all the way.
I did wish that she was around. At the same time, I questioned whether I would want her to see me in that condition. My emotional being is more about protecting others than myself. I don’t want to see other people hurt. That’s why I sometimes kept it to myself when I was sick. Like my family would always find out that I was discharged from hospital, rather than knowing that, when I was admitted. And, because my father played the role of my mother and father at the same time, he didn’t create space for me to feel like I needed my mom.
Q. Take us through the experience itself, what was happening physically? Did you have pains that were unbearable, or was it just the symptoms that were showing?
There were some nights I couldn’t take the pain anymore, and it was worse because the doctors couldn’t give me anything because I wasn’t reacting to anything. It was so bad that even steroids were not helping, including pain killers. I was in so much pain, I even told my family and friends that having a blanket on me would hurt me. My whole body was in pain.
Have you ever seen a sunflower? That yellowness – that’s how my eyes were, and I was dark. There was a point where I couldn’t stand looking at myself in the mirror. The symptoms were so bad, everyday there was something new, I would go back to my doctor and ask whether I’m supposed to be darker than black stools. The only thing that kept me going was my family.
Q. And right now, how is your condition?
I am so full of life! (joyfully) Every pain that comes, I always say it’s minor compared to what I’ve been through.
Q. You have also spoken about living in the moment, and not complaining about life. How do you ensure that you live life this way without being discouraged?
I always go back to the days when I was in hospital, and all I wanted was life. Now that I have got the life, if I want to complain, I better be doing something about it. I live in the moment – not in the sense of being irresponsible, but I know that tomorrow is not promised, and whatever needs to be done, I don’t hold it for tomorrow.
Is Hepatitis preventable?
Dr Malefahlo indicates that there are different types of Hepatitis and therefore, there are different approaches to treating it. For example, Alcohol Hepatitis can be preventable. “The only way to prevent it, is to reduce the alcohol intake, or drink no alcohol altogether. Consumption of alcohol in moderation is another way to reduce risk of Alcohol Hepatitis,” she explains.
“Water that is contaminated can actually infect people with Hepatitis E in particular. “In Hepatitis E, good hygiene practices and washing your hands frequently especially after toilet use, can help avoid the faecal to mouth transmission which is very common with Hepatitis A. Also avoiding recreational drugs can help prevent getting Hepatitis, and a lot of times patients that use recreational drugs get it because they share needles, and therefore, they get exposed to infected blood,” she adds.
Dr Malefahlo explains that sexual health is also crucial. “Another way of infection is if you are sexually intimate with a person who has been infected with Hepatitis. You can get infected with Hepatitis B through anal sex, it has been proven beyond doubt that it has a higher risk of transmission, and this is mainly because of faecal to mouth transmission.”
“Lastly, you can prevent getting Hepatitis by getting immunized when you’re traveling to endemic areas that are well known to have a higher incidence of hepatitis and try to avoid raw fish from the local fish markets and oysters”, she adds.
Can Hepatitis Be Transmissible?
“No, it is not. Hepatitis cannot be genetically inherited and transmitted from one generation to another; however, Hepatitis B can be transmitted from mother to child if the mother is positive of Hepatitis B during childbirth”, says Dr Malefahlo. “The child can contract the virus and also get infected so, one way of preventing this is to identify mothers that have the Hepatitis B virus and make sure that their babies are vaccinated within 12 hours of birth so this could prevent the child from getting Hepatitis,” she highlights.
How Is Hepatitis Treated?
According to Dr Malefahlo, Autoimmune Hepatitis is another one that is non-infectious. “Hepatitis steroids for these types of patients work in 80% of the people who have the autoimmune hepatitis, they will be prescribed immunosuppressants that will slow down the immune system from attacking the liver and causing further inflammation, so your immunosuppressants would be drugs like Cyclosporin, Tacrolimus, Azathioprine. So, the main purpose of this is to slow down the activity of the immune system so you can limit the injury to that level”, she concludes.
Personally, Mimo’s story was a reminder that God does indeed exist. Having faith goes beyond just imagining how you would like life to be, but rather what you pronounce with your tongue. Mimo demanded that her situation be changed immediately, and this shifted the order of events. It conveys to me that we are in control of our lives and health, to a certain extent, and the tongue is the most powerful tool in the human body.