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home Publications Success Stories Irene's Story

Irene's Story

Photo courtesy Joni Kabana.From Despair to Triumph

Healthy, happy and employed today, Irene’s situation was once much worse with fistula.

At age 13, Irene was pregnant and alone. Her parents were deceased and her boyfriend left after discovering her pregnancy. When Irene went in to labor, a friend helped her to two separate clinics that could not assist her. Irene was finally taken to the hospital after falling unconscious, but it was too late.

Irene remained unconscious for five days. She awoke, hooked up to IVs and a catheter. As with many fistula sufferers, she was given the devastating news that her baby did not survive.

The time, the hour, the day they removed my catheter... that was my happiest day.


Irene noticed that she was constantly leaking urine on the hospital bed. She called the doctor who informed her that she had developed a fistula and they had tried to repair it without success. Irene’s fistula was brought on by prolonged, obstructed labor. At her young age, her pelvis was not developed enough to deliver a full term baby.

Overwhelmed with grief, Irene stayed on bed rest, unable to walk from nerve damage developed during labor. Her friend abandoned her at the hospital and Irene had no money for food or doctor’s fees. Irene was among 2 million women in the developing world suffering from obstetric fistula, with 50,000 – 100,000 new cases a year.

Through the support of WFF, Irene received free, successful fistula repair surgery and safe recovery. She was a motivator for other fistula sufferers in the hospital, encouraging women to keep hope and follow through on physical therapy to rebuild pelvic floor muscles.

Irene was also able to take educational and vocational classes such as cooking, catering, sewing, and beading, as well as basic literacy, business and math courses during and after recovery. She regained her confidence and discovered her passion for cooking.

Irene now has a sense of purpose. She began cooking for other fistula survivors in recovery and works as an advocate for women’s health!

Photo courtesy Joni Kabana.