Everyday Superheroes

Drs Reg and Catherine Hamlin’s commitment to their patients has been manifested in a myriad of ways in the 60 years since they first arrived in Ethiopia. They persevered through military unrest, famine and a brutal civil war; and yet, they never contemplated returning to Australia.

Everyday altruism

The Hamlins’ dedication to their patients was evident in their everyday interactions with their patients at the Princess Tsehai Memorial Hospital, the hospital they first worked in before they opened the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in 1974. In her book The Hospital by the River (written with John Little), Catherine recalls the busy days that she and Reg would spend at the hospital: “on most clinic days we seldom had time for lunch. I often kept going on bars of chocolate.”

For Reg and Catherine, working 9 to 5 was never enough – there were always more women in need of care. Where clinical days were hectic with dozens of patients requiring consultations, operating days could be even more exhausting with long surgery lists often interrupted by urgent emergencies.

A day to remember

One particularly memorable day working in the operating theatre lasted over 17 hours. Beginning at 5am with an emergency caesarean section, the normal operating list commenced at 8:30am with a Wertheim’s hysterectomy. Three fistula repairs and several curette surgeries followed.

Weary and looking forward to some rest, Reg and Catherine were hoping to clock off at 9pm – only for a patient with a ruptured uterus to arrive at the hospital. She was taken to the operating theatre and as Catherine was finishing her work, the anaesthetist announced that the patient had suffered a cardiac arrest and had died. Reg and Catherine could only watch and wait with sinking hearts as the anaesthetist tried to revive the patient through oxygenation and chest compressions. An eternity seemed to pass, but eventually she was revived as her circulation returned to normal.

For Catherine, “our sense of relief was so great that all feelings of exhaustion were quite forgotten.”

Committed to ending fistula

Catherine’s altruism is the hallmark of her 60 years in Ethiopia; this selflessness has been embedded in the ethos of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia today, and forms the basis of the Hamlin Model of Care. At the age of 95 she is still devoting her energy to caring and advocating for the most vulnerable of women. Yet Catherine’s dedication to these women is not hers to bear alone – together, we can all commit to eradicating fistula. Forever.

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