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Donor Spotlight: Shalise

April 28, 2020

Shalise Hickman and husband.

In January 2016, after years of irregular menstrual cycles and secondary infertility, I decided to go to a different doctor for a second opinion. Tests confirmed I had multiple fibroids and needed a partial hysterectomy.

“It’s a routine surgery, robotics are now being used to assist in surgery, which can lessen any complications post-surgery.”

Routine.

It was anything but….my skilled doctor had been performing routine hysterectomy surgeries for years. The surgery went as planned, but somewhere in the days that followed, healing began to go awry. I was standing at the kitchen counter a few days after surgery and lost all control of my bladder functions. I was in utter shock as I stood there soaking my clothes and leaving a pool of urine on the kitchen floor. I immediately called my doctor, he said it might be due to swelling, to give it a couple days and see if they symptoms subside. They only worsened.

In the days that followed, I researched my symptoms on my own and informed my doctor about what I felt was going on. He had never, in all his years, had a patient develop a fistula post-surgery, and doubted that’s what it was, but agreed to send me for scans to rule anything out. The CT scan confirmed that in the days that followed surgery, I had indeed developed a fistula – the first in my doctor’s decades of experience.

I now know a fistula is a very rare occurrence in the United States, but is prevalent among women in developing and third world countries, most often following prolonged or obstructed labor during child birth and due to a lack of medical attention. Most of the women that develop a fistula also lose their baby to stillbirth in the process, doubling the devastation.

Discovering that I had a developed a fistula began the process of understanding, firsthand, what other women endure on the other side of the world, most often, without access to medical care or treatment. I had to wait 16 weeks for my body to heal enough to be able to have the restorative fistula repair surgery. During those 16 weeks, I felt physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually tested and broken.

During this time, one thing I could control was trying to figure out how to turn my painful experience into a purpose.

I read and researched much about fistulas. Most of what I read completely broke my heart, even as I counted myself as a “fistula sister.” Most of the information was horrific and heartbreaking, but yet some of what I discovered provided hope for healing for women in third world and developing countries.

I learned that many women’s worth in developing countries is defined by how many children they can bear. I learned that in these parts of the world, if a woman develops a fistula, most often, she is ostracized by her community, her family disowns her, she can lose her livelihood, is not able to bear children, and as a result, may lose all hope and contemplate or carry out suicide because there is not always awareness of medical treatment, transportation or funding readily available for a restorative surgery.

I also learned of a fantastic non-profit organization that is committed to educating, funding and holistically treating women in third world and developing countries that are in need of fistula repair surgery. I reached out to this incredible organization, the Worldwide Fistula Fund, to share my story. I felt that I could use my own experience to help provide awareness of the need for funding for surgeries, and could hopefully use my own story to convey hope to women who are currently living with a fistula. I was determined to make my pain turn into a purpose to bring hope of healing, even if to just one other woman.

In May of 2016, I was given the gift of full restoration and healing through a very skilled surgeon’s hands. The doctor I was referred to is one of only a few that has performed a fistula repair surgery in the United States. This surgery fully restored me physically, emotionally, relationally and also greatly deepened my faith throughout the process.

In some ways it is now very natural for me to be able to put myself in another woman’s shoes who is suffering from a fistula. In other ways, I cannot imagine… all of her years, or even decades, of being ostracized, her unbearable loneliness, constant embarrassment and utter hopelessness.

I was fortunate to live in a country where I could get immediate medical attention. I was able to continue to work while waiting for surgery. I was able to hide my condition from the public. My family stood by me, they did not disown me, and as hard as those 16 weeks were on every level, I did not completely lose hope. I know my experience is very different than most women in the world who suffer from a fistula.

So, as I reflect on this painful, yet restored chapter of my life… if I could REALLY speak, it would be to the women in developing countries who are currently living with a fistula, or who are awaiting surgery…I would say this…

PLEASE…DO NOT lose hope in your waiting. There are many dedicated people, both near and far, who are working very hard to help to provide healing and restoration for you. There are skilled doctors, nurses that can help you and restore you in every way and give you hope for a future.

I am committed to telling my story on your behalf to continue to raise awareness, and will continue to use my own pain for a greater purpose. And, one day soon, we will dance together on opposite sides of the world, celebrating your healing and restoration!