Isabella Wangui Waweru, 71 shows her Moran of Burning Spear (MBS) medal given to her by former president Daniel Arap Moi in 1979 in recognition for her service to the first head of state. She was appointed to work as former President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s nurse at the age of 28 in 1974. [Photo: Kennedy Gachuhi, Standard].
Nurse: I saw Kenyatta take his last breath that night
The events of the night the “Burning Spear” fought his last battle with mortality is etched deeply in Isabella Wangui Waweru, Kenya’s first President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s official nurse. She was among a team of six medics that frantically attempted to save the life of Mzee Kenyatta at Mombasa State Lodge on the night he kicked his last.
That was a night, she gasped, when the Saturday Standard caught up with her at her retirement home in Rongai, Nakuru. The events of the day in Msambweni had given them indications of a tumultuous night ahead but they had missed it all. On that day, Mzee looked weak and took a long break during an entertainment session. “He walked slowly back to the podium,” Wangui recalls. Shortly, the entourage left Msambweni for State House Mombasa where more entertainment was lined up but Mzee never came out.
At around 2am, Wangui was called in by Mama Ngina Kenyatta to check on the old man. Though his condition had deteriorated, he maintained that he was strong and sent her away. Unconvinced, Wangui contacted Dr Eric Mugola, Mzee’s physician, who came along with a team of four doctors and a nurse. They attended to Mzee but in the process, he got restless, developed hiccups and collapsed in quick succession. “We tried our best to save Mzee Kenyatta’s life. We resuscitated him for about 15 minutes but he would not get better. He died at around 3am as I watched in deep pain,” she recalls. I never injected him Wangui was then left to play her nursing roles and in pain she covered Kenyatta’s body after she informed Coast Provincial Commissioner about the sudden death. The team was asked to travel back to Nairobi and Kenyatta’s body would later be transported to Nairobi for burial arrangements. To the retired nurse, Kenyatta was a ‘healthy well-built man’ who rarely fell sick and she could tell whenever he was disturbed. She was however always armed with a medical kit that had drugs for various ailments, syringes and antibiotics. “It was rare for him to get sick. He was a strong man and I never injected him. But I was always armed with emergency drugs,” she said. Wangui, 71, had been Kenyatta’s nurse since 1975. She was 28 when she was appointed a presidential nurse. At first reluctant, she gave in after a chat with her father. “I was enjoying my leave days when a man in police uniform visited our home, he was carrying a letter that he handed to me. In fear I slowly opened it and learnt that I had been appointed to be a presidential nurse despite being young in the profession,” she recalls. Before the appointment, Wangui had worked for a year at Kakamega General Hospital before she went back to college and specialised in midwifery. Upon graduating she was posted to Machakos Hospital. “Working with Kenyatta made me disciplined and had to keep time. While in the country we used to travel by road to state functions, while during his holiday he mostly spent time in Mombasa,” she recalled. Her wish now is to meet President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mama Ngina. “My wish is to meet Uhuru and his mother who is friendly, jovial and generous woman. We used to live together as a family,” she says