Compassionate care ends VVF suffering
The story of Gloria Paulo is sadly similar to that of so many women in rural Africa whose lives are devastated by a vesico-vaginal fistula (VVF). Gloria endured pain, humiliation and despair for years. But her story has a happy ending.
Gloria Paulo was a young wife in Malawi, happily expecting her first child. Like many women in Malawi, Gloria is very small, probably the result of poor nutrition as a child. After prolonged labor at home she delivered a stillborn boy at a government hospital. Compounding her heartbreak was the realization that injury caused by her obstructed labor had left her incontinent. Gloria had a vesico-vaginal fistula.
Many women suffering from a fistula are abandoned by their husbands and even forced to live in isolation because they are considered unclean. Gloria’s husband stayed with her at first, and over the next three years she became pregnant twice more. But her attempts to give birth bore the same tragic result. When she finally came to Mulanje Mission Hospital in southern Malawi seeking help she was childless, still incontinent, and now unmarried. Dr. Sue Makin, a former PC(USA) mission co-worker, helped Gloria have fistula repair surgery at a large hospital in Blantyre, about 30 miles from the mission hospital, because the procedure was not yet available at Mulanje. Then Dr. Makin took Gloria under her care, helping to assure that she was completely healed. Gloria returned to her village and eventually remarried.
The next time she saw Dr. Makin, Gloria was pregnant. Dr. Makin counseled her on the need to come to the mission hospital to give birth by caesarean section in order to prevent another fistula and avoid another stillbirth. Gloria did return to the hospital – on a bicycle – enduring a three-hour ride while she was having labor pains. She had a caesarean section and became, at last, the mother of a healthy baby boy. “Never was there a happier woman,” Dr. Makin reported.
Happy endings to the ordeal of fistula injuries are now possible for more women in Malawi. Fistula surgery and post-operative care are available at both Mulanje Hospital and at Nkhoma Mission Hospital in northern Malawi. Women travel long distances seeking relief from suffering they have endured for years, and although few can afford to pay for hospital services, all receive the surgery and lengthy inpatient recovery they need. Healthy Women Healthy Families helps mission hospitals provide life-changing surgery and compassionate care.