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Sekina’s story: Hidden from the world

This Christmas, through our Big Give Christmas Challenge Appeal The road to new beginnings for women with fistula we are aiming to raise £30,000 to support Hamlin’s Patient Identification Programme to find, treat and care for women in need.

Women like Sekina – who experienced years of heart-breaking loss and isolation as a result of fistula and shared her story with us.

Sekina’s story

Growing up in rural Eastern Ethiopia, Sekina experienced many challenges. Born and raised in a remote village, her opportunities were limited by little access to education, health care or transport.

Sekina’s parents couldn’t afford to send her or any of her six siblings to school and her community’s preference for seeking medical help from traditional healers meant her family rarely visited a trained nurse or doctor. Entrenched traditions also shortened Sekina’s childhood and like many girls in her village, she had an arranged marriage at a young age.

Shortly after her wedding, Sekina became pregnant; whilst exciting, it was also a scary time for her. My mum tried to comfort me all the way and guide me in how to prepare for the delivery. Everything seemed normal until that final day,” she told us.

Hidden from the world

Like the other women in her remote community, Sekina prepared to deliver her baby from home in the village, without a midwife. However, when the time came, she was in labour for two long, painful days and it became clear her labour was obstructed. Exhausted from her endeavours, members of the village came together to carry her on a long and arduous journey to the closest local hospital for help.

Tragically, by the time they arrived at the hospital, it was too late for Sekina’s baby. Her obstructed labour was so serious that the doctors considered her lucky to still be alive after her ordeal.

But there was to be further trauma for Sekina, sadly she had suffered a devastating obstetric fistula injury during the labour and was incontinent.

When I woke up, I found myself lying on a soaked bedsheet and I felt ashamed of myself. The doctors insisted that I go home and come back again after a few months, but I declined and chose to continue staying at the hospital for a month, hoping to get better. That didn’t happen and I was taken home with a heavy heart and grief” Sekina

For months Sekina struggled in pain and was ostracised by her community, as a result of the stigma and lack of information about fistula. Although Sekina’s ordeal was relatively short, its impact was significant: “For me, those three months with fistula felt like three long years. I have lived between life and death. Hidden from even my own family members and friends,” Sekina remembered.

A women suffering from fistula with her friend
Like many women with fistula, Sekina was isolated from her community

The road to new beginnings

Despite the agony of her fistula injury, Sekina never gave up hope for a cure to her fistula. After months of indignity and pain, her hopes were restored when she heard about Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia from two people who would help change her life.

At first, Sekina’s grandfather told her of a former fistula patient he knew who had successfully been treated at Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. Then, thanks to Hamlin’s Patient Identification outreach programme, Mohammed, a Hamlin Patient Identification Officer came to her village.

Patient Identification Officer Mohammed travels across eastern Ethiopia to find women in need of treatment at Hamlin

Mohammed talked with Sekina about her fistula injury and explained she should visit Hamlin’s Harar Fistula Hospital where she could get free treatment. Shortly after their meeting, Mohammed arranged for a Hamlin ambulance to transport Sekina and two other fistula patients from her region to Harar Fistula Hospital.

After being welcomed by hospital staff, Sekina began a two-week programme, including pre-operative physiotherapy in preparation for her fistula repair surgery. The clinical team at the hospital, including surgeon Dr Leta, provided best-practice fistula treatment and her first surgery was successful, leaving Sekina cured and free of incontinence.

Sekina smiles and chats with other patients after her surgery

For Dr Leta, the return to good health of patients, like Sekina, is such a joy:

“The smile on the face of my patients when their dignity is restored is the best part of my job. It’s why I won’t stop until Ethiopian mothers can enjoy a safe pregnancy, delivery and life with their children.”

Dr. Leta

A new start

Overwhelmed with emotion, Sekina told us: “I never thought my suffering would end in such a short time. With the extraordinary treatment I received at this hospital I regained my dignity as a woman. Thank you to the staff here: you are life-givers and thank you for your love and for the affection you show every patient.”

Sekina’s identification, transport and treatment were all provided free of charge thanks to the generosity of Hamlin supporters. The Hamlin Model of Care, which was pioneered by Dr Catherine Hamlin outlines a holistic treatment model which cares for each patient as a whole.

“The services here are full and free. I dressed in clean clothes, slept on clean bedsheets, was fed delicious meals, did rehabilitation training and learnt basic life skills. This is an incomparable and complete service that I never had or thought about,” Sekina explained.

With her dignity, health and wellbeing restored, Sekina wants to help other women like her who have suffered a fistula injury, by spreading the word of a cure: “I will become your ambassador for the rest of my life. I would also like to thank those people who support the hospital to do such life-changing work.”

This Christmas, can you help us find the hidden women of Ethiopia and support them on their journey to a new beginning?

Your generosity will enable our surgeons to treat even more women – helping them on the road to a new beginning.

Visit between 29 November – 6 December to make a donation.

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