In Summary
  • John Muthama became the first patient to have his stomach hived off to reduce weight in a public hospital.
  • Mr Muthama had been diagnosed with class III obesity.
  • The surgery the 66-year-old underwent to reduce his weight, where medics hived off a portion of his stomach.

He weighed more than 170 kilos and could not walk. But a procedure at Kenyatta National Hospital that removed part of his intestines has offered a glimmer of hope.

John Muthama made history last week when he became the first patient to have his stomach hived off to reduce weight in a public hospital.

A week after John Muthama’s discharge from Kenyatta National Hospital, Lifestyle linked up with him at his home in Waithaka, Nairobi, to take stock of his recovery journey.


The surgery the 66-year-old underwent to reduce his weight, where medics hived off a portion of his stomach, was historic as Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) said it was the first to be conducted by a public hospital in Kenya.

During the interview, Mr Muthama reflected on his mental calculations ahead of the operation.

“This is probably the most difficult decision I have made in my life. It took me 10 years to give my nod. I was afraid that I would not make it out of that small theatre room alive. The doctors considered the procedure a high-risk one,” said Mr Muthama while lying on his bed.

Mr Muthama underwent the surgery in May. Then, he weighed 176 kilos with a body mass index of 59.5, more than 29 units above the obesity mark.


Mr Muthama had been diagnosed with class III obesity. This got the family worried.

“Do you know how it feels to look at yourself in a mirror and all you see is flesh everywhere? This is how I have been feeling. Most of the times I wished the mirror was faulty,” he said.

Mr Muthama’s weight issues started in 2009. He knew he was eating well. Since he was a retired civil servant, he thought, he was happy with the life he was leading. Little did he know that he was inviting a host of problems.

At the age of 60, he opened a timber workshop after retiring from the Public Works ministry. At that time, he weighed 130 kilos and could still move.

He went on with his work normally as the weight continued to increase. In 2012, he closed the shop and went to supervise the construction of his buildings, only for him to start getting unwell.


Mr Muthama loved his matoke and chapatis. The doctor said the two led to the abrupt increase in weight.

His wife Agnes admitted to Lifestyle that she is partly to blame.

“I am a good cook. If they say it’s what he eats that led to this weight problem, then I stand accused because I loved cooking very nice matoke which is our staple meal. Chapatis were a must-have. Beef also,” said Mrs Muthama.

When her husband’s weight started growing tremendously, she recalled, her in-laws were praising her for “taking good care” of their son.

“I was happy that I got all the praises. This motivated me more. I cooked well and ensured that I used all the ingredients to make the meals tastier,” she said.

John Muthama

An undated photo of John Muthama taken after adding weight. PHOTO | COURTESY

This changed when she noticed that her husband could no longer work and Agnes was advised to check on his eating habits.

“I thought I was adding love to our marriage but I was bringing more problems,” lamented Mrs Muthama.


They did not realise the magnitude of the problem until he developed breathing difficulties, his legs started swelling and the heartbeat became unusually fast. Everyone who came visiting advised him to exercise.

At 167 kilos, however, attempts to exercise were fruitless as he could barely bend. So, exercise was not an option.

“The spirit was willing but the body was weak,” said Mr Muthama.

He could barely walk, let alone run. What really pained Mr Muthama was that he was a marathon runner in secondary school, a sport he enjoyed. Now, he was struggling to walk.

He tried dieting for a year, eating only vegetables, water and skipping meals. But that did not bear results. He even joined several social media groups and books to seek advice but failed.

“My dieting journey was very interesting. My daughter told me of a low-carbs (carbohydrates) diet, which we tried but it failed. We started fasting but it also failed. I was not so disciplined.


“I would eat a small portion of carbs or at times no carbs at all, proteins and a half plate of vegetables and fats (avocado). The dinner was always served by 6pm and not later than 9pm to give room for digestion. I also took a lot of water — four litres a day.

“For a fasting diet, I had a well-crafted timetable and would even go for three days without food and no sugar. I would only have coffee and water during the fasting window. And during the feasting window, I would not eat carbohydrates. I could not have any fruit since the nutritionist instructed that it would stop autophagy (drawing energy from the body’s own tissue). I did it diligently but I lost only two kilos.

There was no much difference,” said Mr Muthama.

With every measure hitting a wall, he finally started consulting doctors to know where the problem was.

“I started at Aga Khan Hospital since I was told I had a spinal injury. But when we went for X-ray, they did not detect anything. However, the problem was getting worse; I could not walk. We went to a Kikuyu hospital and I was told that I could not walk again since all the muscles in my legs were dead. I lost hope,” he recalled.


Mr Muthama saw close to eight different specialists for advice but all of them prescribed exercise as the only way to reduce the weight.

At some point, he was diagnosed with hypertension, warned that he was developing obesity, and did not take long before he was diagnosed with it.

On the matter of obesity, he sought solace in the fact that being bulky run in the family. All his siblings and also their parents were big and none reached the obesity line. He was, however, the biggest.

In December 2018, his condition worsened and he could not even lift his legs. It took four people to take him outside the house and back.

He could not even turn in bed and would need his wife’s assistance.

“I was really suffering and really wanted to lose the weight, though I did not have the stamina and discipline to do so,” he said.

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