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How a simple surgery ended three months of hospital visits

Small and unexpected incidents do have big consequences. So was a whistling game for seven-year-old boy Thokozani Kumbilani from a village on the outskirts of Lilongwe, in Malawi. 

When Thokonazi was playing with his friends, he accidentally inhaled part of the whistle without realising it. Little did he know that the next three months would become a nightmare for him and his family. 

Soon after inhaling the plastic valve, he started experiencing shortness of breath, chest pains, and intermittent vomiting, which lead to a decreased in his appetite and loss of weight. His parents, realising the severity of the situation, took Thokonazi to six different rural hospitals, who were unable to figure out what the issue was. Due to lack of equipment and expertise in these hospitals, the seven-year-old endured months of being tested for pneumonia and pulmonary tuberculosis. 

After three months and countless tests, Thokonazi’s nightmare ended when he was referred to Kamuzu Central Hospital in Malawi. 

When Thokozani presented at the hospital, he had shortness of breath with loud bronchial sounds and was placed on oxygen. An examination revealed a collapsed left lung while a CT scan revealed the object obstructing his left lung. Dr Bip Nandi, a Paediatric Surgeon, and his team performed a successful bronchoscopy and removed a plastic valve that Thokozani accidentally inhaled and had lodged in his left bronchus causing breathing difficulties for three months. 

Such an incident bears a huge cost for anyone. For Thokozani, it meant not being able to go to school or seeing his friends as his breathing didn’t allow him to live an active life. His family, too, paid a huge price. 

Born to subsistence farmers already hit hard by the economic effects of COVID-19, it meant his family had to redirect their little resources to seeking medical and surgical care for him for three months in different hospitals. His three siblings had to miss out on school, too, as either resources were saved for medical care, or the family was travelling to visit hospitals.

Luckily, a day after admission at Kamuzu Central Hospital, a 3.5mm bronchoscope helped remove the foreign object, and a few days later of observation, Thokozani was discharged. 

Thokozani and his family are now back home on the outskirts of Lilongwe, and are being able to continue with their normal lives. Thokozani and his siblings have all been able to return to school. 


Thokozani is here today because a simple operation in a KidsOR Operating Room saved his life. We can save thousands more children just like him with YOUR help. By supporting Kids Operating Room, you’ll be giving children greater access to surgery that could save their life, or prevent a lifetime of disability.

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Kids Operating Room installed a state-of-the-art Operating Room at Kamuzu Central hospital in 2018, which has seen a huge increase in the number of children receiving the surgical care they deserve. 

Thank you to nurse Kenedy Kachingwa and Dr Bip Nandi for sharing Thokozani’s story with us.

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