Zigiju had an active childhood looking after her family’s livestock. Raised in an isolated rural village in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, Zigiju would walk for kilometres to the nearest river to bring water back to her family. She never could have imagined that as an adult, obstetric fistula, a preventable childbirth injury, would confine her to the edges of her community and take away her mobility for 16 years.
Zigiju’s complex childbirth injury
When Zigiju became pregnant with her first child, her entire family was elated. As there was no health clinic nearby, Zigiju was unable to access perinatal care during her pregnancy. She prepared to deliver her child at home, without a midwife or doctor present. Alarmingly, over 70% of pregnant women in Ethiopia experience labour without the help of a medical professional.
Zigiju endured a painful, obstructed labour. After three seemingly endless days, she was finally carried to the closest government hospital. The journey was on foot and took six perilous hours. As she recalls, “I still feel that pain now. I remember they carried me on a handmade stretcher before I became unconscious.”
The prolonged labour had a devastating impact. Tragically, Zigiju’s baby was stillborn. The staff explained to her that she had also suffered a double fistula injury, leaving her incontinent. “When I woke up, I found myself lying on a soaked bed and asked the nurses ‘what happened?’ I then felt ashamed and cried deeply,” she says.
Zigiju’s injury was complex and debilitating. In addition to her incontinence, she suffered foot drop and nerve damage to her leg, which prevented her from walking. For years, she was dependent on her family and, at times, strangers to look after her. “I had no one around to help so I just begged for help from people. That was the worst time I spent in my life,” Zigiju reflects.
An all-encompassing approach to treatment
When Zigiju arrived at Hamlin’s Bahir Dar Fistula Hospital, she was welcomed with love and respect for the first time in years. “My hope for life started when I first visited this hospital” Zigiju says.
Zigiju’s treatment at Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia occurred in phases. She received clean clothing and bedding, nutritious food, a colourful and warm Hamlin blanket, medical checks, counselling, and preoperative physiotherapy. This all-encompassing approach to treatment was pioneered by Dr Catherine Hamlin as the Hamlin Model of Care.
She then underwent surgery to treat her first fistula injury. Afterwards, Zigiju underwent physical rehabilitation for her leg injury, as well as counselling. “I became strong enough to properly manage myself. This hospital is my only hope of a cure and that is why I never gave up,” she explains.
Because of the complex nature of her injury, Zigiju needed a diversion surgery to treat her second fistula injury. After successfully undergoing this surgery, she underwent further postoperative rehabilitation to complete her treatment and restore her strength.
Health, mobility, and hope restored
Today, Zigiju is able to walk again, proudly.
“Here we eat better, sleep on a clean bed, are dressed with clean clothes, and these are all delivered unconditionally with the utmost love and care,” says Zigiju. Through the Hamlin Model of Care, Zigiju’s health been restored, and she has been empowered to return to her village and contribute to her community once again. Each Hamlin patient is discharged with new clothes and money for the bus fare home, so that when they return to their village, they can do so with their head held high.
Dr Catherine Hamlin believed that every woman matters. This ethos, grounded in love and respect, carries on in the work of the Hamlin Clinical Team and Hamlin support staff. It is an ethos that has empowered Zigiju’s return to health and restored her hope for the future.
“I can’t thank you enough with my words, but the gratitude will stay in my heart forever,” beams Zigiju.
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