This post may not be for the faint-hearted. While at BYU I took a political science class that looked at non-traditional issues affecting peace and security. Among them was the status of women. We learned that due to the very young age at which young women in the developing world are given in marriage, severe complications in childbirth can leave them incontinent, and completely cut off from society. This is especially prevalent in Africa.
In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof profiles the work of anthropologist-turned-obstetrician who has made it his life's work to correct this condition, known as a fistula. This work has an immediate and transformative impact in the lives of the women it touches:
Just about the happiest thing that can happen to such a woman is an encounter with Dr. Lewis Wall, an ob-gyn at Washington University in St. Louis. A quiet, self-effacing but relentless man of 59, Dr. Wall has devoted his life to helping these most voiceless of the voiceless, promoting the $300 surgeries that repair fistulas and typically return the patients to full health.
“There’s no more rewarding experience for a surgeon than a successful fistula repair,” Dr. Wall reflected. “There are a lot of operations you do that solve a problem — I can take out a uterus that has a tumor in it. But this is life-transforming for everybody who gets it done. It’s astonishing. You take a human being who has been in the abyss of despair and — boom! — you have a transformed woman. She has her life back.”
“In Liberia, I saw a woman who had developed a fistula 35 years earlier. It turned out to be a tiny injury; it took 20 minutes to repair it. For want of a 20-minute operation, this woman had lived in a pool of urine for 35 years.”