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Rising basketball star paid Sh44.5m for botched brain surgery

During a basketball game between St Mary’s School and Highway Secondary in Nairobi on the afternoon of February 8, 2005, rising star Jacob Ondeko, who was playing for the former, fractured his nose after being elbowed.

Jacob’s team eventually won the game 75-55. Three days later, his father, John, took him to Nairobi Hospital for a procedure to help correct the effects of the fracture. At this point, his nose was bent.

Before the surgery, the initial anaesthetist, Dr Moniz Gerald, was removed, and Dr Praxedes Mandu Okutoyi brought in. Dr Okutoyi put Jacob to sleep in what would change the young man’s life forever.


After the procedure and when Jacob’s head was being undraped, Dr Okutoyi shouted that the patient’s lips were blue. This meant that Jacob was close to dying. On checking, he had no pulse.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was done and his heartbeat restored before he was admitted to the intensive care unit.

Jacob, then 17, had suffered hypoxic brain damage, a condition caused by interruption of oxygen to the brain. Once oxygen supply to the brain is cut, an individual loses consciousness after about 15 seconds. After four minutes, brain damage sets in.

For the next three months, Jacob was confined to Nairobi Hospital.

On Wednesday, High Court Judge George Odunga ordered Nairobi Hospital and Dr Okutoyi to pay Jacob Sh44.5 million for the negligence that led to the brain damage.

The operating surgeon, Dr Chimmy Omamo Olende, was absolved of wrongdoing in the judgment that also awarded Sh1 million to each of Jacob’s parents. Judge Odunga held that the injuries were not as a result of the surgical procedure, but failure on the part of anaesthetist.

Jacob’s parents — Dr John Ondeko and Dr Margaret Ondeko — had in 2008 sued Dr Okutoyi, Dr Olende and Nairobi Hospital for negligence on behalf of their son.


Nairobi Hospital’s Standard Audit and Ethics Committee in 2005 placed blame on Dr Okutoyi for failing to monitor Jacob after administering anaesthesia. The same decision was reached by the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists’ Board, and now the High Court.

“Jacob is hereby awarded a total of Sh43,460,000 being damages for pain, suffering, loss of amenities, costs of the minder, future medical expenses and loss of learning capacity to be paid jointly and severally by Dr Okutoyi and Kenya Hospital Association (Nairobi Hospital), Sh1,071,080 being special damages to be paid jointly and severally by Dr Okutoyi and Kenya Hospital Association (Nairobi Hospital),” the judge ruled.

The awards started accumulating interest yesterday, and will continue to do so until Jacob, who is currently in a wheelchair, and his parents are paid in full.

When Jacob joined Form One at St Mary’s School from Nairobi Pentecostal Church Academy (now Citam School), his excellence in just about everything was evident.

Apart from being one of the most prolific basketball players, he was also a great footballer, swimmer and sprinter.

Before long, the entire school knew Jacob and even nicknamed him “Bondex”.

At St Mary’s, there was a popular saying. “Maumivu yakizidi, tumia Bondex,” which translates into when symptoms persist, use Bondex. The line is corrupted from pharmaceutical advertisements that advise people to seek medical attention if symptoms persist after using a particular drug.


One of his friends, Mr Philip Moturi, told the Nation that they met in Form One (2002) and have continued their close friendship since.

“I remember when we made it to the nationals for the first time since 1997, he was an integral part of the team. He wasn’t the tallest guy but he had freakishly long hands and great flight so he would play in the big man’s position. Towards the end of every game, we would call a time-out then agree to burn the remaining time with individual skills,” Moturi reminisces.

But his brilliance was not only in sports. In 2004, Jacob was named the best actor in St Mary’s after his display in a play about the school left many in awe. He was also a great guitarist and piano player.

“He would go to the music centre, pick up a guitar and start playing. Students, mostly ladies, who were even two years ahead of us, would make music requests and he would play any of those songs off-head. He could do that with either the guitar or the piano. In Form Three, he became the most popular kid in school,” Mr Moturi added.

One of Jacob’s oldest friends, Germany-based lawyer Ian Innocent Ogutu, still remembers the game against Highway very vividly.

“I wasn’t able to see him for a while (after the botched surgery) but when I went to the hospital I almost collapsed next to his bed. The guy I was with from Class One was lying there. I came back (to Kenya) in November last year, paid him a visit. We chatted, celebrated his birthday, ate ice cream … it was amazing,” Ian said in a phone interview.

Jacob’s parents told the Nation on Wednesday that they would comment only after going through the 400-page judgment.