The Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation is dedicated to restoring the health and dignity of women who have survived an obstetric fistula, a horrendous and preventable childbirth injury.
Founded over 60 years ago by pioneering Australian surgeons Drs Catherine and Reg Hamlin, their extraordinary journey started with an initial three-year posting to Ethiopia.
Today, it reflects a lifetime quest to provide the world’s best treatment to the most marginalised women, those who have suffered an obstetric fistula. An internal injury caused by prolonged, unrelieved obstructed labour, which leaves them incontinent, humiliated and cut off from their communities.
Etagegn’s story is one of heartbreaking lows and hopeful highs. From a remote village near Limmu in the Oromiya Region to the agony of obstetric fistula to the optimism of a life restored after being lovingly cared for at Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.
She is no stranger to tragedy. When she was young, her father passed away, and she had no choice but to leave school to help her mother. Her education and childhood were cut short. When Etagegn was 20, she married and fell pregnant.
Like so many women living in rural Ethiopia, she never visited a health clinic during her pregnancy. The closest clinic was a four-hour walk away. Unable to walk that long in her condition, she planned to deliver the baby at home with an untrained birth attendant from the village.
Like five per cent of women around the world, Etagegn had an obstructed labour. She laboured for hours, then days, with no medical care praying that her baby would come out
Seven out of ten women in Ethiopia still give birth without medical assistance.
She couldn’t continue like this, so her family decided to make the four-hour walk to the clinic, carrying her on a homemade stretcher the entire way. She finally arrived at the clinic, only to deliver a stillborn baby.
Etagegn returned home the next day, grieving the loss of her baby. She was in pain and unable to move her legs properly, and couldn’t control her body waste.
She had suffered an obstetric fistula injury and was distraught. “That was the most shameful moment in my life. I wished I could die rather than live in shame. I became completely hopeless,” she said.
One of the most tragic consequences of a fistula injury is the shame and isolation associated with it.
Her community ostracised Etagegn; her husband abandoned her, and she lived in isolation with no social interaction.
After months of living in shame, Etagegn knew she had to do something. She got up and slowly started walking in a desperate search for help. On her travels, she met a person who knew about obstetric fistula and Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia.
In August 2020, Etagegn finally arrived at Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, undergoing a fistula repair surgery, free of charge, that healed her injury and incontinence.
“I didn’t believe that there would be a cure for me until I reached this hospital and saw the amazing care for many women like me,” she says.
“Here, everything is different. The nurses and doctors treat me with love, and I am served delicious, nutritious meals. I do physical exercise at the physiotherapy centre, learn how to make crafts, and surprisingly all of these services are free.”
Despite the many challenges that she has had to overcome, Etagegn’s future, free of fistula and open to opportunity, looks optimistic.
To find out more please visit: https://hamlin.org.au/.
Story Source: Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation