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Healing Lives Book Review

Sarah Hamlin, granddaughter of Dr Catherine Hamlin, reviews the moving account of the friendship that saved the lives of over 60,000 of the poorest women on earth.

This is the story of a remarkable friendship between two extraordinary women. Born twenty-two years apart in the first half of the 20th century, Mamitu Gashe and Catherine Hamlin first met as patient and doctor at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital and, with a mutual admiration and respect that deepened over time, became colleagues and close friends who held each other in the protective love of a mother and daughter.

Drawing on extensive research, author Sue Williams skilfully shapes a narrative that covers almost 100 years. During that time Ethiopian society has been transformed by political revolution, medical and technological advancement, and economic growth. Mamitu and Catherine’s stories are placed firmly within the context of this challenging period, during which they were building a world-leading model of care for women whom many seemed to have forgotten.

Williams’ rich descriptions of my grandparents’ work and characters are particularly insightful and true-to-life; reading about Catherine and Reginald’s early years together, it feels as though we are really there, a fly-on-the-wall in some of their most private moments.

And, for the first time, Mamitu’s story is placed front and centre as Williams shines a spotlight on her experiences and the incredible achievements that have shaped her internationally significant role as both a surgeon and teacher. Most movingly, we witness Mamitu’s courage, humility and lifelong devotion to the women who have suffered like her. Healing Lives reveals again how deserving she is of her worldwide renown.

Mamitu holds a copy of Healing Lives
Mamitu in the ground of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital holding a copy of Healing Lives

Williams’ book also offers us hope for the future. The early work of Catherine, Reginald, Mamitu and many others at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital has paved the way for a global effort to restore life and dignity to the women who continue to suffer these devastating childbirth injuries. With this ongoing support, we can now anticipate that these preventable conditions will one day be eradicated forever.

By Sarah Hamlin

Healing Lives is available to buy online from UK retailers.

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