Just like a rainbow at the end of a downpour, the skin of four-year-old Triza Njateni changes colours from the normal brown to deep purple, causing not only concern to her family but also sending shock waves through the community.
Her medium brown complexion also changes to black, with a green pigmentation sometimes appearing in her veins, further confusing her mother Efiteni Tambala who is yet to come to terms with the bizarre appearance of her third born.
At first glance, Triza looks normal and as jovial as any child her age. She is as free-spirited as she is curious, seizing every opportunity to satisfy her curiosity. Her smile betrays her talkativeness as she rushes to inspect my camera, pen and notepad.
A recent visit to her home behind Don Bosco campus in Lilongwe’s Area 23 found her playing on a mound of sand that her father had just harvested from the rains that poured a few days earlier.
There was little activity around the area, typical of a Sunday morning as the community went to church.
The iron-roofed structure does not fool any visitor that her family struggles financially.
Her unemployed parents were not home. The mother sells vegetables in the area whenever she gets the capital to run the business while the father used to sell empty sacks where he made K1 000 (about $2.30) a day. He ran out of capital towards the end of last year.
Triza’s playmates volunteered to go and call her mother as Triza chatted away with me and her incoherent speech did not deter her.
Triza’s health passport describes her condition as cyanosis. Her mother explained that in ordinary language, her daughter was born with a big heart with a hole in it. Triza weighed a healthy 3.6 kilogrammes at birth.
“The first surprising thing I noted in her was that she did not cry like babies normally do after birth. Also since birth, she has never suffered from any other disease apart from influenza and changing skin colour.
“What really concerns me is the skin change to purple. It happens almost every week and can occur three times a day. This happens whenever she feels tired; usually, it is when she is playing around with her friends.
“Apart from purple, which is the regular colour she changes to, she once changed to black. The family is at loss for words with the chameleon-like condition,” said Tambala.
She said for the colour to return to normal, Triza must rest. She said rumour-mongers have given their diagnosis to her child’s condition, with some believing it to be the work of witchcraft.
“Some people who have seen her rare condition have suggested that I kill her,” said Tambala.
It is a condition the family never wanted to make public, fearing society’s reaction to their predicament.
Tambala’s close friend, Pilirani Maweja, who joined us for the interview, said she has witnessed Triza’s skin change to purple many times. She described the condition as strange.
The colour changes sometimes begin from her nose whereas on other occasions they start from her hands before spreading to the rest of the body.
Maweja said the colour changes started when the girl turned one year.
Tambala said in 2011, government flew her and the girl to India for a heart operation that failed to happen because of yet another mystery.
“What happened in the theatre room was that whenever surgeons cut her skin for the operation, blood did not come out. Only water oozed out. The blood was too viscous to flow. So, we were sent back home and told to return to India two years later,” she said.
She said after the failed operation, doctors gave Triza drugs to help the blood flow in the hope of improving her condition so she may return to India.
Tambala said since Triza started taking the drugs, she can now bleed. The family is hopeful the girl will be operated on.
Triza eats any food like a healthy child, but the mother said she was advised to give her special daily diet of three eggs, three bananas and milk, luxuries she said the family cannot afford as they cost K280 daily.
She appealed to well-wishers for help.
Dr Davis Mtontha of Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) said the girl’s condition means oxygen circulating in her body is sometimes low.
He said that is why the skin changes its colour.
The doctor confirmed that the girl has a large heart with a hole in it.
On the prescribed diet, Mtontha said it is alright to feed her bananas as they provide potassium.
He said Triza also needs the milk.
“The prescribed food is meant to help boost her immunity because in such situations, the immunity is compromised. However, three eggs a day may choke the blood veins and affect the blood flow because of the high cholesterol in them. I recommend the parents to be taking her to hospital to check her cholesterol levels,” he said.
He also said local doctors need to examine her to recommend if she needs to return to India.