Garnering international and professional recognition was never the priority for Dr Catherine Hamlin; serving some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable women in Ethiopia was, however. The stories of the obstetric fistula patients Catherine and her team treated are inspiring. These women, whose lives have irrevocably been changed by fistula repair surgery, reflect incredibly poignantly on the role Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia had in their lives. Over 60,000 women have been treated at Hamlin hospitals; below are some of their stories:
Living with fistula
Prior to reaching Hamlin, most fistula patients are ostracised from their communities. In many instances, fistula sufferers are shamed for their incontinence, unable to work due to their injuries, rejected by friends and family, and abandoned by their husbands.
“I used to cry day and night. I didn’t want to eat or drink because I didn’t want to live, and I didn’t want to leak.” – Asrebeb
“Living with fistula had pushed me to hate my own self. Nobody wanted to come close to me.” – Fatuma
“It is life below living and above death.” – Aberash
“While I walked the urine flooded down on my legs and soaked my shoes, making me feel ashamed of myself. The journey to Addis Ababa by itself was difficult in that the bus drivers didn’t want to allow me a ride, house renters at Addis Ababa denied to let me stay for the night of arrival.” – Sa’ada
When Catherine and her late husband, Dr Reg Hamlin, created the Hamlin Model of Care, they prioritised treating the patient with respect and compassion. The care that patients receive at Hamlin hospitals is transformative: wrapped in a warm, colourful blanket, a patient is embraced into the Hamlin community upon her arrival. She is given a nightgown and slippers for the duration of her stay and undergoes counselling to treat the unseen scars of fistula.
“I’m dry! I haven’t leaked for six days! Before, I had lost hope. I was like a dead person. And now I’ve risen again!” – Jamila
“All the staff have patiently given me motherly care. I have no words to thank them all.” – Gete
“The treatment and improvement I am getting here has transformed my life to be more hopeful; I have started dreaming.” – Asrebeb
Recovering from fistula
Patients undergo literacy and numeracy classes, as well as learning handicrafts from which they can earn an income. Patients are gifted a brand new dress upon their discharge, and where necessary, money for the bus fare home. A patient is able to return to her community on her own two feet. If a former patient becomes pregnant again, she can visit a Hamlin hospital for a caesarean section and postnatal care free of charge.
“At first they had restored the dignity I had lost for 15 years. Now they have enabled me to have a baby girl with motherly care that is even better than what I got from my family.” – Kedijja
“It’s like a rebirth for me. You brought me out of that dreadful injury, and now helped me to have my baby and brought back happiness.” – Fatte
“Having my condition treated was like a rebirth. Before, my life was not worth living. Now I am healed and I can live my life again.” – Mulu
The journeys that Hamlin patients undergo are remarkable; their resilience is nothing short of inspirational. You can help more women complete the journey towards a life restored; click here to finish what Catherine started.