Transforming lives in Ethiopia

How Life Changing Can a Fistula Operation Be?

Reading time: 3 min

Have you ever read our stories and wondered what happens to the patients once they’re cured? The story below is an incredibly inspiring example of the redemptive work at Hamlin Fistula Hospital…

Her Journey

Mamitu was married at 14. Her husband was 25 and, although the marriage was arranged, her husband was kind and would do anything for her. She was overjoyed when she became pregnant at the age of 16; she knew they would be so happy to be a family and she could not foresee that anything bad could happen.

Her labour began normally, but her pain continued into the second day. When she was still experiencing this on the fourth day, she knew her baby had died.

She was devastated. But not only that, when the intense pain continued for 15 days without relief or any medical assistance, she contemplated taking her own life. Fortunately, her Mother stopped her, but she began to realise her body wasn’t healing. She could no longer control her bladder or her bowel. She felt humiliated. She had already lost her childhood and now, she had not only lost her baby, but had been left with a devastating injury caused by the traumatic and prolonged labour.

Her Recovery

Fortunately, Mamitu had a sister living in the capital Addis Ababa and her relatives had the funds to help her travel and receive medical help – not a luxury all women can afford.

This is where, in 1962, Mamitu’s life changed forever. The Hamlins showed her such compassion and kindness: they told her she was not the only woman suffering in this way. Her injury was a complex obstetric fistula, but she was so weak they had to build her strength up before they could operate. It took several surgeries to cure her and nearly two years for her to fully recover. During her treatment, Mamitu became very close to the Hamlins. Her gratitude for their help, combined with the Hamlins’ heartache for her trauma, bonded them together.

A life changed forever

Early on, Reg realised Mamitu had potential. She began by making beds and caring for patients who were suffering as she had. Reg invited Mamitu to start helping in theatre by handing surgical instruments to him and Catherine. After only a few years, she started suturing post-surgery. In the years that followed, Mamitu’s responsibilities grew until she had her own patients and began undertaking complex fistula repairs.

For Mamitu, Reg and Hamlin are like a mother and father. From ending the pain and humiliation of incontinence, to educating and transforming her into a talented and world-renowned fistula surgeon, the Hamlins gave her a new life. Mamitu cared for Reg until he passed away in 1993 and remains by Catherine’s side today.

Inspiring others

It was Mamitu’s hard work, compassion and dedication that inspired Catherine to open the Hamlin College of Midwives in 2007. Her goal is to train enough midwives for every village in rural Ethiopia, prevent fistula injuries and bring an end to obstetric fistula forever.

Mamitu’s story is the embodiment of Catherine’s legacy. She has gone from patient, to one of the world’s finest fistula surgeons, winning a gold medal from the Royal College of Surgeons. Together with Catherine she is inspiring a new generation of Ethiopian women to pursue the dream of ending fistula.


Catherine continued to perform surgeries, alongside Mamitu, until she was 91. Now, at the age of 95, she still lives in the grounds of the Hospital, with Mamitu by her side. Catherine enjoys visiting patients in the wards and listening to their stories, stories as inspirational and with the same potential as Mamitu’s.

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