Throughout her 95 years Dr Catherine Hamlin has been an inspiration to thousands of people across the world – but do you know about the people who inspired Catherine? Many fascinating people in both the medical and civilian world have influenced Catherine’s work serving some of the most vulnerable women in Ethiopia. Learn more about two of Catherine’s heroes below.
Dr Margaret Fitzherbert was gynaecologist who worked in Ethiopia at the same time as Drs Reg and Catherine Hamlin. Prior to the Hamlins’ arrival in Ethiopia, Dr Fitzherbert had been the chief gynaecologist at the Princess Tsehai Memorial Hospital; by the time the Hamlins met her, she was working with leprosy patients in the nearby Princess Zenebework Leprosy Hospital.
Dr Fitzherbert advised Catherine and Reg on the challenges of treating patients in a resource-scarce environment. She also spoke of the devastation of obstetric fistula in Ethiopia, warning Catherine that “the fistula patients will break your heart.”
In ‘The Hospital By the River’, her autobiography written with John Little, Catherine fondly recalls Dr Fitzherbert:
“Dr Fitzherbert was tall, thin and rather gaunt-looking, with a lined face and grey hair. She seemed old but was so lively and talkative that we could hardly get a word in. She had spent many years in Ethiopia as a medical missionary and was dedicated to the country and her work. We were drawn to her immediately because of her vitality and her tremendous love for Ethiopians. She spoke with great enthusiasm about the task which lay ahead of us.”
Dr Fitzherbert inspired Catherine to dedicate herself totally to the patients and people of Ethiopia. Her commitment to treating fistula and leprosy was exemplary.
To Catherine, Mamitu is family. Catherine first met Mamitu in 1962, when she arrived at the hospital in Addis Ababa with complex fistula injuries at the age of 16. Her journey from illiterate fistula patient to one of the finest fistula surgeons in the world is remarkable.
Mamitu has achieved immense recognition for her considerable achievements as a leading surgeon and obstetrician. She is a recipient of the Royal College of Surgeons‘ Gold Medal. In 2018, Mamitu was named one of the BBC’s 100 Women – a list of the most influential and inspiring women in the world.
“If you have no leg, you can go with a crutch, if you are blind, somebody can help you around. For fistula, this is worse. Family: father, brother, mum – they can’t help the patient. I would be ashamed, because when I get up, there might be a smell, might be leaking and soaked clothes. The patient themselves, myself, I want to be alone.” – Mamitu.
Mamitu’s life exemplifies the potential of every women. She inspired Catherine to train more women to work in maternal and gynaecological health, and eventually set up the Hamlin College of Midwives in 2007.
Catherine’s inspirations reflect the altruism that she embodies. Throughout her 60 years in Ethiopia, Catherine has been selflessly dedicated to women who have been shunned by their communities and denied access to basic healthcare as a result of their impoverishment and geographic isolation. Her steadfast belief that no woman need suffer the indignity of an obstetric fistula has fuelled her life’s work.
Will you join Catherine in committing to a fistula-free future? Click here to discover how you can help make Catherine’s dream a reality.