As another week draws to a close, we are pleased to report that everything is going swimmingly at the Danja Fistula Center! We sent a newsletter out on Wednesday, but for those of you not on the list, we thought we’d recap the contents here:
As many of you know, the Danja Fistula Center opened its doors last week to the women of west Africa. So far, each day has been an exciting and special treat as community members and civic leaders have poured onto the grounds not only to offer assistance but also to show their support for both the DFC and all women suffering from fistula. Highlights of this incredible time include:
- The Minister of Health of Niger cutting the ribbon for the clinic and spending time encouraging patients to stay strong and live with purpose after their surgeries.
- The first day of surgery ending with three successful operations! With the best training, equipment and facilities, the DFC doctors and nurses are confident that many more successes are to come.
- The official dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring speeches by our founder, our clinical consultant, the Secretary General of Niger and the U.S. Ambassador. A large and happy crowd gathered to cheer the historic event. When the Ambassador cut the ribbon to the operating room, it was clear that the final step in the long journey to open our first fistula hospital was taken.
One of the most special moments in a very special week was the Friday before the official dedication, which the WFF devoted to a celebration of fistula patients. In the middle of the day, staff members brought roasted lamb, juice, treats and music to the “village” where nearly 70 women had gathered awaiting treatment. The dancing, eating and singing went on for hours. As executive director Mark Shaker said, ‘These ladies often are not honored or even respected in their daily lives. We were able to give them the tribute they deserve for their courage and perseverance.”
Later that evening, a ten-person band began to play on the front steps of the hospital. Within 20 minutes, hundreds of people arrived and began to dance. DFC staff, patients, locals and visitors celebrated the momentous occasion with each other for more than three hours. Mark wrote, “It was as exciting and emotional of an event as I’ve ever seen.”
The hoopla and hubbub has been a wonderful start to the hospital, but we know there is a lot of work to be done to keep giving the women of west Africa the care and support that they need to live healthful, happy lives free of the horror of obstetric fistula. Please continue to help us spread the word about this condition — and what’s being done to fight it. We have already come so far; now let’s do even more.
Join our e-mail list today to receive news and updates from the Worldwide Fistula Fund directly in your inbox! More and more women arrive at the hospital for treatment every day, and we will bring you their stories and successes as the Danja staff relay them to us.
After several days of travel (and a couple of misplaced bags), our team has arrived at the new Danja Fistula Center in Niger and the news is good! There are about 20 surgeries scheduled for this week as well as a number of post-operative check-ins with our past patients. While some of the women who have shown up at the facility can’t be fit into the schedule for this trip, they either will be operated on during the next trip in November or as soon as the hospital commences year-round care (January 2012). The mood is hopeful and everyone is very excited to get the procedures underway and bring some measure of hope and healing to these ladies.
Our lovely intern, Kim, who is down in Niger learning about obstetric fistula and the Hausa culture, sent along a few pictures of patients who will be treated on this trip:
Our team has been spending a lot of time with the women and their families, talking to them about their lives and experiences with obstetric fistula. The women are very supportive of each other and seem to be at ease among others who share their condition.
More good news is that the hospital is in the final stages of construction and, apparently, so clean that you could “eat off of the floors” in the operating rooms (not that that’s recommended). Ta-da!
Please keep checking back for more updates as they come in. And, as always, if you would like to contribute towards our work with obstetric fistula patients in Africa, please donate today.
There are currently 14 women still receiving obstetric fistula
treatment on the ward, and while nothing is guaranteed in the medical world, they are doing exceptionally well and the team is on schedule for a completion of services on Monday.
On that same day, the women who underwent fistula surgery will participate in a dress ceremony wherein they will all be given beautiful new dresses to mark this new stage in their life. For many of these women, the dresses will be the first new clothes they have ever had and serve to replace the soiled rags they were wearing when admitted. The community is invited to gather and witness this incredible celebration of life. Traditionally, women have shared their personal stories, sang songs and danced and cheered with the staff, community and each other.
After the Dress Ceremony, May 2010
The medical team is excited to attend the dress ceremony and usher these women into a new era of health and happiness. They are an incredibly diverse bunch, including a surgeon from Alabama, an operating room nurse from Texas, ward nurses from Portland, Chicago and Dallas, the Netherlands and New Zealand, as well as an operating nurse from Australia, a surgeon from Burkina Faso and a surgeon from Grand Rapids, MI.
Medical Team, March 2011
There is a space in between the fistula hospital ward and the operating room where family members of the patients have congregated for over a week. They support one another, bring food to their loved ones and greet the women with great happiness when they come out of surgery – regardless of whether or not they know them. They are a wonderful addition to the facility, and have a very positive impact on both the fistula patients and the staff.
The family members also have a favorite cheer that they shout to all of the medical staff when they walk by: “Barka da Aikey,” which means “Blessings on your work.”
Although all of Namu’s family members warned her not to travel to Danja to see the Western doctors, the misery of her obstetric fistula outweighed the discontent of her family. She first came to get screened by the Worldwide Fistula Fund’s team during their August 2010 surgical trip. During that appointment, she was treated medically for the first time in her life and heard first-hand accounts from women who had previously been treated. While the WFF doctors couldn’t fit her in the schedule until the March trip, her experience at the fistula hospital the first time assured her that the team had her best interests at heart. When she arrived this week she was greeted by the same nurses who saw her in August and told us that she now has an aspiration of becoming a fistula nurse. Namu received surgical treatment on Monday and is recuperating well and in great spirits.
Bamile is nearly 30 years old and has been living with an obstetric fistula for over a decade. She has five siblings but since her fistula developed, they have refused to recognize her existence. She lives in a small shack behind her family’s house and does odd jobs in exchange for food and shelter.
We met Bamile because she heard a radio ad that the Worldwide Fistula Fund’s team was coming to Danja, and borrowed money from her parents to take a two-day long taxi trip to receive treatment. To make sure that she didn’t miss the opportunity, she arrived at the fistula hospital five days early.
Bamile has a bubbly personality and spends her days chatting with her new friends on the ward and trying to figure out what she is going to do with her life now that she is not perpetually leaking.
Surgeons are close to completing their third full day of surgeries, with the fourth and final procedure being conducted as I write this. Tomorrow (Sunday) is an off day, and then there will be a full slate on Monday and Tuesday.
The above picture is from the current ward with women who are recovering from their surgeries. This will be the last time that the team uses the current facility, because the brand new fistula hospital should be opening in a few months.
After fistula surgery, it is typical for a woman to be treated for a week in the hospital to monitor the status of the surgical repair, continue treatment, check for infection and conduct physical therapy. There is an incredible feeling of support in the ward amongst the patients, and they show such incredible warmth to all of the medical personnel who are providing them each with a new lease on life.
Day two of surgeries ended with four more repairs. Two of the women that received surgeries were near 50 years in age and had been living with obstetric fistulas for decades. The team has also admitted four more women that are scheduled for surgeries tomorrow. It is remarkable to see the spirit and courage in all of the women. They are jubilant with hope and also fearful of undergoing a surgical repair. They comfort each other on the ward, and while they may be alone in their village or even their home, they have found wonderful company and support from the other survivors.