Dr Elizabeth Serogo Nkhi is a medical doctor with a master’s degree in business leadership. She is also CEO of her own consultancy, where she trains NGOs and government departments on capacity building and tuberculosis (TB) management. And she runs her own private practice east of South Africa's capital, Pretoria.
At the South African National TB Conference, Nkhi reminded the audience that health workers get TB too. She spoke to IRIN/PlusNews about her struggle to deal with the complications left behind by a disease she cured almost 20 years ago.
"Unfortunately, TB, even if cured, can still cause residual damage and long-term complications in those who've had it. In 1994, while I was a medical student at the University of Cape Town, I was diagnosed with TB of the uterus. I received TB treatment and I took every single dose for fear of my DOTs [Directly Observed Treatment Short course] supporter, who happened to be the [residence] matron.
“Having dedicated my time and energy to the fight against TB, I know first-hand the stigma - even in those years, if you got TB [people thought] you were either from a very poor home or you were HIV-positive.
"Nevertheless, I did finish my treatment and I was TB-free. Unfortunately, the TB did not leave me as it found me. I've been through the challenge of living with the complications, or what I call the aftermath of TB.
"Fast forward a few years after 1994. I met the love of my life. In 2003, he proposed. Two months later I fell pregnant. The same day I started experiencing severe lower abdominal pains and had to be taken into casualty. I was diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy and a laparotomy was performed.
"A year or so later, in early 2005, I started having mild lower abominable pain. I visited my gynaecologist and received the good news - I was pregnant. I was ecstatic, I was ready for this.
“My happiness was short-lived. Three days later, I collapsed at work had to be rushed to the hospital. I ended up on the theatre table - ectopic pregnancy again.
“I thought, 'Enough is enough. Two years in a row?' I was still busy with my master’s in business leadership. I thought, 'We can't continue like this, I need to finish my master’s. If I am going to be pregnant every year and have to take six weeks off, this is not going to work.'
"We decided to take matters into our own hands. We decided I was going to have a tubal ligation - sterilization. We were now in control. We were going to start planning for children when we were ready.
“Mid-2006 we were ready for in-vitro fertilization (IVF). We went to a fertility specialist and started treatment. During the course of the IVF, I had complications so I had to go into theatre. A laparotomy again.
Photo: Foundation for Professional Development
|"The aftermath of TB"|
"The problem was sorted and we continued with IVF. It was successful and we were very happy. Then, a week later, I was back on the operating table There I was, having a third ectopic pregnancy.
"A year later, in 2007, I went back for IVF. Now there was a new problem - my eggs were acting up. I was advised there was nothing that could be done about the eggs. They are finished. We were devastated.
"Since I am one who never gives up, in 2009 I went for a second opinion on the egg situation. I know about the [fallopian tube] situation - TB damaged them - but the egg situation was new to me. I was 35 [years old] - I mean, eggs are still good then, right?
“I went to a different fertility clinic, and God bless the doctors at Steve Biko Academic [Hospital], they beat those ovaries until they actually produced some eggs. Then the eggs didn't implant. Another disappointment.
"We thought, ‘Okay, we'll relax and then try again before I'm 40’. I've seen people… they have twins at, like, 45. I was even thinking I should try to raise some money to go to New York, because they seem to produce these babies.
"We let go of the process - [IVF] is a taxing process, emotionally, physically and financially. Then in February 2012, I was going about my business, training healthcare workers on TB management, and in a workshop I started experiencing lower abominable pains.
“I went to see a gynaecologist. She broke the news - I was pregnant, but it was in the [fallopian] tubes once more. Off we went for the fourth laparotomy.
"In total, I've had five laparotomies, but we haven't given up. I still dream of the pitter-patter of little feet."