In the middle of a nondescript night four months ago, seemingly out of nowhere, Christopher Bartolo was released from prison on temporary bail. The man, who has no kidneys and is in a fragile state of health, had been sent to jail after he was tried in court as a drug trafficker after being found with some cannabis, only for the Cabinet of Malta to step in on humanitarian grounds and overrule the courts.
The scene was joyful in February outside of the prison as Chris walked through the gates that he had long been staring out of. But his life isn’t what it used to be.
Whereas he once held down multiple jobs, providing for his family, he now remains in an unknown state, unable to work, practically under house arrest – though he has successfully continued his Business Studies – with the possibility of returning to prison looming over his head; his next court date is in October.
He’s also preparing for a critical operation next month to remove the now-rejected kidney from his body, a defunct organ that’s remained inside of him ever since his body rejected it in prison due to authorities allegedly failing to ensure he received the correct medicines on time.
“At the moment my health condition is not at its best as I need to get operated on again,” said Christopher to Lovin Malta. “I am being positive at the moment and this is what helps me remain here. After the court’s decision I will start planning my future better as at the moment I am still restricted. I thank God that I reached my 37 years last Sunday – that means I’ve survived nearly 10 years since I was diagnosed now, three of which I lived with a transplanted kidney.”
When asked about the transplanted kidney, he appears more aggrieved for the donor
“I am sad the kidney was rejected but most of all I’m sad for Steve, my donor. But at least it worked for three and a half years,” Christopher says with his typical optimism.
Indeed, for being wrung through the Maltese justice system while battling a life-threatening disease, Christopher is able to keep his head high and smile wide.
“You have to adapt your life to the situation you live in,” he says of coping with his situation. “Basically you live on a machine and you have to see what’s best for you. What I try is to avoid eating high potassium food and control water intake daily.”
Saying that he really misses eating summer fruits, he is determined to recoup his health now that he is out of prison where his condition was deteriorating
“What I can say is that I still look towards my future, my dreams such as getting married one day and starting a business venture. So at the moment I am just planning this and wishing for happy moments,” he said.
Even though he was granted temporary bail from prison under exceptional humanitarian grounds – he literally set a precedent – he can’t afford mentally to stay thinking about his case. Having spent years fighting Maltese authorities after he readily admitted he was using cannabis to cope with his kidney disease, he just wants to move on with his fragile life.
“I just don’t think about when it will be all over,” he says. “Someday it will come, but it is useless thinking when that day will be.”
His partner Rachel was visibly worried ahead of the next few important months for Christopher
“Hopefully the operation goes well – but then there is the sentence. Whatever outcome we get, all we can hope is that our life will gets normal once again,” she says.
“For us, normal is to get the simplest things back, like our liberty. Then there are other normal things that we can do – plan our future together, maybe go abroad (Chris has never been abroad), maybe at least we can go somewhere for just two days as he has to return for dialysis…” she trails off.
Having supported him throughout his time in prison and while being painted as a drug trafficker by the Maltese courts, she’s anxious to see better days. Never mind that – she’s anxious to see him get a decent night’s sleep.
“Chris is really capable of hiding his feelings with regards to his health condition so he can try and give us a better life without worrying. He is not the kind of person who will tell you he is in pain even though lately I could see him being quiet on the sofa,” she says.
“He never sleeps at night, and sometimes I wake up and watch him walk along the corridor asking him ‘what’s wrong’… his condition doesn’t let him sleep well due to certain medications he takes,” she says
Having nursed him back from the edge once or twice after he suffered severe episodes, overcoming desperately risky moments, she is now only scared of one thing.
“My only fear is that he’ll be sent back to jail now.”