Review Blog

Nov 16 2020

Healing lives by Sue Williams

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Pan Macmillan Australia, 2020. ISBN: 9781760982034.
(Age: Adult) Highly recommended. This is the story of two truly amazing women, Catherine Hamlin, a highly educated privileged woman from Sydney, Australia, and Mamitu Gashe, a poor illiterate girl from a remote village in Ethiopia, whose paths crossed when Catherine and her husband Reg, both surgeons and committed Christians, took up the challenge to establish a school for midwifery in Addis Ababa. It was there that Catherine and Reg first became aware of the shocking suffering of many young girls severely damaged after prolonged and tortuous childbirth, left with fistulas, holes worn in internal tissue leaving them uncontrollably leaking urine or faeces or both. It is a problem rarely seen now in the western world with its high levels of obstetric care, caesareans, and antibiotics, but in Africa and Ethiopia, it is a huge problem; the women, in constant pain, and ashamed, are outcasts from society. The Hamlins became determined to help.
At 16 years of age, Mamitu was left with horrific fistula injuries following a four day labour and a stillborn child. Her husband and friends carried her on a stretcher over 100 kilometres across mountains and gorges in the desperate search for help. It was the worst case the Hamlins had yet encountered but they embraced her as their daughter and determined to operate as many times as necessary to achieve a cure.
Readers cannot fail to be moved, reading of the suffering of the young Ethiopian women and of the care and love that the Hamlins brought in their dedication to medical intervention. But perhaps most inspiring of all is the story of Mamitu, reciprocating the love she received, determined to also help, becoming a cleaner, interpreter, nurse's aide and then assisting and ultimately performing her own surgery, continuing Catherine's legacy, all without ever having had any schooling.
The Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation has restored the health and dignity of over 60,000 women. This book is a wonderful testament to the kindness, determination and dedication of two outstanding women and the people who continue their work.
Helen Eddy

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