Aster sits in the post-operative ward at Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, smiling and laughing along with other patients. Looking at her smiling face, it would seem almost impossible to imagine that just a year earlier, she had begged her despairing father for poison so she could end her life.
Aster’s small farming village is among one of the most remote in Ethiopia. It is more than 1,000kms south of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa and lacks even the most basic of infrastructure – electricity, public transport or hospitals. The closest health facility is located more than two days walk away.
Unlike women in Australia, when Aster fell pregnant there was never any thought of going to a hospital. More than 70% of births in Ethiopia take place without a doctor or nurse present.
When her labour began, her family soon realised that something was terribly wrong. After four agonising days, Aster finally gave birth but her child was dead. Aster, herself was barely alive, she was unconscious and was left with terrible injuries from her labour.
She had suffered a double fistula, leaking both urine and faeces. “By the time I became conscious I found myself soaked, giving off a stench and not able to move my legs. I constantly cried, ashamed of myself,” Aster recalls.
Even more tragically, as fistula had never been seen in her village before, Aster’s family thought she was incurable and she lived with the condition for two years, until that fateful day she had finally reached breaking point.
“One day I asked my father to bring me some poisonous drink and kill me. I told him this would be a relief for both myself and my family. He cried deeply and made me pray with him in seeking a solution,” said Aster.
Aster’s father knew that his daughter couldn’t continue living the way she was. He sold their only cow and helped Aster get to a health centre two-days trek away. She was immediately transferred to the Hamlin fistula hospital in Yirgalem, in the south of Ethiopia.
Her fistula injuries were extremely complicated and, after receiving treatment in Yirgalem for five months to make her fit for surgery, she was transferred to the main hospital in Addis Ababa. Her first surgery repaired her rectal fistula and was a complete success. She returned home to recover and prepare for her next surgery.
Three months later, Aster returned to the hospital in Addis Ababa for her final operation. At last, after nearly three years of unimaginable suffering, Aster’s life was restored.
Aster recalls the day she came home after her initial treatment.
“The villagers were surprised when I returned back looking so well and recovered, above all my father cried in happiness. God helped me to get to Hamlin and receive such unconditional love and care for free,” says Aster.
Today there are thousands of women living in remote areas suffering in isolation from this preventable condition.
Yet due to the generosity of our donors, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is able to continue to seek out and treat these most vulnerable women.
Aster received her treatment completely free, as have the nearly 55,000 women who have been treated since pioneering surgeon Dr Catherine Hamlin started treating these injuries, almost 60 years ago.
Dr Catherine Hamlin believes no woman should suffer the pain and indignity of obstetric fistula, and our supporters are part of a movement to eradicate this terrible condition forever.
You can help a woman like Aster today. You can become part of the growing movement to eradicate obstetric fistula forever. This tax-time, please help us make this dream a reality. Donate today.