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No Longer Defined by Fistula: Mulu's story

For half of her life, a horrific childbirth injury defined Mulu. Obstetric fistula stole Mulu’s joy, confidence, and relationships for 17 years. Today, thanks to a diversion surgery at Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, she is regaining her health, happiness, and sense of self.

Four arduous days

Mulu was born and raised in Benishangul-Gumuz, a north-western region of Ethiopia. Growing up in a small village, Mulu worked with her parents to help support the family and when she got married, she was excited to start her own family with her husband, a farmer.

After discovering that she was pregnant, Mulu and her family were very excited to welcome their newborn. But this happiness was shattered when Mulu experienced an obstructed and protracted labor.

Like most of the women in her village, Mulu prepared to give birth to her baby at home, but nothing went as expected.

In Mulu’s village, the dangers of childbirth were well known. Mulu knew this harsh reality as two of her siblings were lost during childbirth.

After two agonizing days in obstructed labor, Mulu was taken to the nearest hospital for emergency care. After two further days of unconsciousness, she awoke to learn that her beautiful baby was stillborn. Her grief was overwhelming.

“I found myself lying on a soaked bed. On my way to the restroom, I felt a strange feeling of being unable to control my urine,” recalls Mulu.

“The nurses told me it might be from the hard labor and that it would stop. But that didn’t happen – I knew I was incontinent.”

Mulu patient4 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation | Together we can eradicate obstetric fistula in Ethiopia.

Finding a treatment for Mulu

For most fistula patients, a life-changing simple fistula repair surgery can take as little as two hours. Unfortunately, the extent of severe damage to the bladder that Mulu had suffered meant that surgical treatment was not as simple for her. Due to the complexity of her injuries, Mulu underwent multiple unsuccessful surgeries over many years.

Over this time, Mulu’s fistula injury had a traumatic effect on her. As she reflects, “In those 17 years with fistula, I had been leading a horrible and desperate life. I lost my marriage and home, my social life, my confidence, my dignity, everything. The loss of my father and mother four years ago worsened my grief even more.”

At Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, under the Hamlin Model of Care, Mulu received holistic care including nutritious food, clothing, counseling and physiotherapy. Despite the difficulty of her complex fistula injury, neither she nor the Hamlin Clinical Team gave up hope. “My family gave up hope in me and left me in complete loneliness. This hospital and the lovely medical team are the only untiring supporters who helped me stay alive until today,” says Mulu.

Mulu patient3 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation | Together we can eradicate obstetric fistula in Ethiopia.

Health and dignity restored

Finally, in March last year, Mulu returned to Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Hospital to receive specialist diversion surgery. “I am completely dry after 17 years! I cannot thank all the staff and those who support their work enough,” she exclaims.

Dr Catherine Hamlin believed that every woman matters. Mulu’s treatment over 17 years at Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia embodies that ethos. Catherine’s work continues thanks to Hamlin’s dedicated Clinical Team. Patients at Hamlin’s fistula hospitals still lovingly refer to Catherine as Emaye (“Mother” in Amharic) and the Hamlin Model of Care remains the cornerstone for every patient’s treatment. According to Mulu, “Emaye is like an angel sent to save people like me.”

Mulu, with her health and dignity restored, is looking forward to a future defined by her capabilities, not her injury. “Look at me now, I am the happiest woman in the world! I walk around with confidence and dignity. Now I can work and change my life,” she beams.

Mulu patient2 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation | Together we can eradicate obstetric fistula in Ethiopia.

Since 1959, Catherine and the incredible Hamlin Clinical Team have restored health and dignity to over 60,000 women. Like Mulu, each of these women matter. With your help, we can reach 100,000 women and help eradicate fistula from Ethiopia.

Will you help us transform the lives of 100,000 women? Click here to give today.


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All rights reserved 2023 Catherine Hamlin Foundation (R) (ABN58159647499)
Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation is fiscally sponsored by KBFUS (EIN582277856) and KBF Canada (RCO769784893RR0001)

Photography credits to Cameron Bloom, Nigel Brennan, Mary F. Calvert, Kate Geraghty, Amber Hooper, Joni Kabana, Johannes Remling and Martha Tadesse.

Patient names have been changed to protect the identities of those we help.