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The Hamlin team met Etagegn in June 2020 at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital as she recovered from her fistula surgery. She shared with us her journey from the agony of obstetric fistula, to the optimism of a life restored.

Life before fistula

Etagegn was the only child of a farming family. Unlike most girls from her village, Etagegn was lucky enough to be afforded the luxury of an education, however this was tragically, cut short by the death of her father when she was in Year 7. Etagegn dropped out of school to support her mother. “My father was the head of our house and for me and my mum his death made life difficult. I left school and married at the age of 20,” Etagegn recalls.

Married life in the village was tough for Etagegn and her husband as they did not have any land to farm and they decided to migrate to Addis Ababa in search of work. For two years, Etagegn and her husband struggled – some days they would not be able to find work and would go to sleep hungry.

During this time, Etagegn became pregnant. She chose to return to the village to have the baby at her mother’s home. However, the closest health clinic was a four hour walk from the village, and as a result Etagegn had no medical support during her pregnancy, and simply planned to deliver her baby at home with a traditional birth attendant.

The agony of fistula

When the day came, tragically, Etagegn suffered an obstructed labour. Her labour went on too long, and weak and in agony she could no longer push. Her worried family made the decision to make the four hour journey to the health centre, carrying Etagegn on a homemade stretcher.

The nurses at the clinic saved Etagegn’s life, but devastatingly her baby was delivered stillborn. She returned home, grieving for her child, but her suffering was to continue as she realised something was not right. Unable to move her leg properly and incontinent, Etagegn had suffered an obstetric fistula injury. She was distraught.

That was the most shameful moment in my life. I wished I could die, rather than live in shame. I became completely hopeless.”


Etagegn’s husband abandoned her and in desperation she decided to leave her village in search of help. “One morning I went out and started the desperate journey towards the big town of Jimma. When I reached the town, I met a very kind doctor who owns a clinic. He diagnosed my case and directed me to this hospital. He let me stay the night at his home, gave me money for transportation and even walked me to the bus station in the morning,” Etagegn recalls.

The journey to Hamlin and recovery

When Etagegn arrived at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in May, she was sceptical that there was a cure for her; that changed when she saw the facilities at Hamlin. “I didn’t believe that there would be a cure for me until I reached this hospital and saw the amazing holistic care for many women like myself,” she told us.

Despite the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to Ethiopia, Hamlin has remained committed to delivering vital surgical services, and in June Etagegn underwent fistula surgery.

“I learned, from previous patients who came back for follow-ups, that the whole service at the hospital remains the same even during the current coronavirus pandemic.”


Etagegn was amazed by the quality of care provided even in the midst of a pandemic: “Here everything is so different. The nurses and doctors treat me with love, I am served with delicious, nutritious meals. I do physical exercise at the physiotherapy centre, learn how to make crafts and surprisingly all these services are totally free.

The results are promising and the team expect her to make a full recovery. Despite the many challenges that she has had to overcome, Etagegn’s future, free of fistula and open to opportunity, looks optimistic.

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is working to find and treat the countless women who, like Etagegn, are suffering the agony of fistula. You can help care for fistula patients like Etagegn by donating today.

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