Ellen Maria, now 50, suffered for nearly half her lifetime with an obstetric fistula (a hole that developed in the birth canal as a result of obstructed labour). “I was 23, and pregnant with my third child, when I went into labour at home,” she told us. “I struggled for nearly three days, and at that point, they took me to hospital for a caesarean section, but my baby was stillborn. Soon after, I started leaking: urine and faeces. The hospital discharged me without giving advice.”
Left in severe pain with no access to relief or help, the next year was terrible for Ellen Maria. “I was constantly wet and smelled bad. I was too embarrassed to go out – I couldn’t go to church or participate in activities, no one wanted me there – so I ended up staying at home. I felt so isolated and spent a lot of time crying on my own. My husband divorced me and married someone else.”
Years went by and Ellen Maria continued to live a restricted life; but finally, in 2016, she met a woman who’d been treated at the Fistula Care Centre (FCC) in the capital city, Lilongwe. “She had once been like me, but they had healed her. I was so happy when I heard there was somewhere that could fix the problem – and I was so excited I started begging her to take me immediately.”
“Since I went home, my life has been totally different.”
- Ellen Maria -
Ellen Maria was admitted, and her surgery was successful at the first attempt. “It changed my life. For the first time in years, I was no longer leaking. When I left the FCC, I was so happy, I was crying. Since I went home, my life has been totally different.” Through Intercare, IHP is supplying donated medicines to the FCC, which each year treats about 400 of an estimated 20,000 women in Malawi who suffer with fistula.
Ellen Maria was provided with materials to start a vegetable-growing business, and she has since trained as a Patient Ambassador. Today, she travels to other villages, helping other women to get the help they need. “So far, I’ve brought eight women to the FCC, and sometimes people reach out to me because they know someone needing help,” she told us. “The centre is going to give me a bicycle to help me reach more women in my area. I’m so happy to be able to help other women. If someone hadn’t brought me to the FFC, I would still have been living like that today.”