In 1993, Dr Reg Hamlin died of cancer. After losing her husband, Dr Catherine Hamlin was faced with a hard decision: how to continue her work without Reg? The idea of treating thousands of obstetric fistula patients alone was overwhelming.
Not alone in the fight
Birru, Catherine’s gardener who had been with the Hamlins since he was a teenager, went to console Catherine. He knelt beside her, took her hand and kissed it. “Don’t leave us,” he said, “we’ll all help you.”
At 69 years of age, and after 35 years of service, Catherine could have retired and returned to Australia, with no one expecting more – but she stayed. “I began to realise the enormous blessings that I had and the future seemed suddenly bright. This is my home and these people are my family,” Catherine recounted in her autobiography ‘The Hospital By the River‘, written with John Little.
With the support of donors who continued to raise funds so that fistula treatment could be offered for free, and comforted by her Ethiopian family and friends, Catherine carried on through the grief of losing Reg.
Continuing to spread the word
Working beyond her comfort zone of the hospital grounds, Catherine attended public speaking events all over the world. She knew that continuing to spread the words about the fistula patients that she and her dedicated staff were treating was the most important job for the future. In raising awareness about her work, Catherine sought to ensure that Ethiopian mothers do not have to face this horrendous childbirth injury.
As Catherine continued to spread the word, she gained recognition for her service and pioneering work. In 1989, Catherine was awarded the Honorary Gold Medal from the Royal College of Surgeons of England. In 1995, she was awarded Australia’s highest honour, being promoted to the grade of Companion of the Order of Australia. In 1998, Catherine was awarded Rotary International’s prestigious Award for World Understanding and Peace.
Catherine dedicated 61 of her 96 years to eradicating fistula from Ethiopia. Learn how you can help finish Catherine’s work here.