Fistula Foundation - Elizabeth Atieno

Meet Sylvia

Pregnant at the age of 13, Sylvia labored for two days before delivering a stillborn baby. She developed obstetric fistula, which led to two decades of shame and sadness. Then one day, she heard a radio announcement that would change her life forever.

Sylvia's Story

Sylvia is from a place called Seme, in Siaya County in Kenya. She is 34 years old and single. Sylvia dropped out of school when she realized she was pregnant at the young age of 13. In fact, she didn’t even know she was pregnant until her mother began to notice her physical changes. She carried her pregnancy to full term without any difficulty.

One evening she started experiencing labor pains, but remained hopeful that things were fine and that her experience was normal. Two days passed and her labor had not progressed. At this point her family decided to take her to the hospital, where she delivered a stillborn child. Three days later, she realized that she was unable to hold her urine. Nurses assured her that the problem would heal on its own with time.

“Days, weeks, moths and eventually years went by without any slightest sign that things were to get back to normal again,” Sylvia shared. “I felt confused. At the age of 13, my dreams of going back to school were shattered completely, I felt left in darkness about my condition because I didn’t know what was happening, I could no longer go out to socialize, I became the talk of our village, I tried getting married but it never worked because immediately they learned about my condition. Then they left, and I never saw them again.”

She went into the city to work as house girl, but when her employer learned of her condition, she threw her out of her house with fear that she would infect her children with the disease. She later found a man who took her in as a wife, but after two miscarriages, he threw her out on the streets.

“I had lost hope until I heard an announcement over the radio about fistula treatment,” she said. Sylvia recalls writing the number down during the announcement and calling immediately after. Out of her 34 years on this planet, she had spent more than two decades suffering because of her obstetric fistula. It was hard for her to believe that her nightmare would soon be over.

Sylvia was treated at Gynocare and today is full of hope. She dreams of working hard, to one day buy a piece of land, because she is passionate about farming. And one day, we believe she will.

About Kenya

  • Population: 45,010,056
  • Average Births per Woman: 3.54
  • Female Literacy: 84.2%
  • Population Living in Poverty: 43.4% (less than $1.25/day)
Read More

We’re Making a Difference in Kenya

News
Out of the Margins #2 – This doctor is unstoppable

Dr. Charlotte Kaliti is a force to be reckoned with. She is the first female surgeon to complete Fistula Foundation’s rigorous training program in Kenya—and she’s just getting started. Dr. Kaliti commands the room as she sits at the head of a conference table in Nairobi. She looks impeccable—even though she entered only moments before…

News
Fistula Foundation partners with Quilts For Empowerment

Fistula Foundation is partnering with Quilts for Empowerment, an organization that teaches quilting to impoverished women in Kenya, including obstetric fistula survivors. Quilts for Empowerment has completed many quilt commissions for Fistula Foundation, with each one featuring the women’s work. Read more: Fistula Foundation partners with QFE Quilts for Empowerment is honored to announce that…

Read Another Woman’s Story

  • Meranesoa

    Madagascar

    Meranesoa’s husband accompanied her to the hospital for her fistula surgery, and said he had every intention of helping, supporting and standing by her side while she received and recovered from treatment.

  • Djinto

    Democratic Republic of Congo

    Djinto tried to do everything right. She attended regular prenatal sessions to prepare for the birth of her child. Her pregnancy progressed normally, though she had been warned that the child she carried was too large for Djinto’s young 17 year old body to handle.

  • Zatindravelo

    Madagascar

    When it came time to deliver her baby, Zatindravelo dutifully made her way to a medical facility to deliver, but her labor took a turn for the worse when there were no doctors or nurses present to assist her when she needed them most. She labored for 17 hours with her first child. The child did not survive. As a result of her prolonged, unrelieved labor, she had developed obstetric fistula.

  • Siana

    Siana

    Burundi

    Siana is 17 years old and from Katanga Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She developed an obstetric fistula after going through a difficult pregnancy at just 14.

  • Awetu

    Tanzania

    After Awetu developed a fistula following a difficult labor and delivery, her husband left her and married another. She was heartbroken.

  • Fistula Foundation - Maria

    Maria

    Zimbabwe

    Maria is 42 years old. She is HIV-positive and currently on antiretroviral therapy. Maria doesn’t have a permanent place to live – she cannot work because of her incontinence, and has no real income to live on. She survives through the ongoing support of her relatives and friends.

  • Salha

    Tanzania

    Salha had a complicated and prolonged labor before she was finally brought to a hospital in the Mtwara region of Tanzania. There she received an emergency C-section section, but it was too late. Tragically, Salha’s baby had already died. A few days later, Salha realized she was leaking urine.

  • Francine

    Madagascar

    She became pregnant with her first child around age 17. Things did not go as planned, and Francine found herself in labor for three days. Finally, she was taken to a hospital where her baby was delivered via C-section. As a result of her prolonged obstructed labor, Francine had developed an obstetric fistula.

  • Ndatsaha

    Madagascar

    Ndatsaha developed fistula when she went in to labor with her third child. She sought the services of a traditional birth attendant, as she had with her previous pregnancies, and as most women did in her community. But this time, things were different. The baby did not come, and Ndatsaha labored in excruciating pain for three days.

  • Mary

    Kenya

    Mary's first two pregnancies progressed normally, giving her two healthy children. But she never could have imagined what would happen when it came time to deliver her third child.

  • Rasoanirina

    Madagascar

    Rasoanirina was 18 when she went into labor with her first child. But her labor did not go as planned: it lasted for three excruciating days before the baby was delivered stillborn, via C-section on July 2, 2015. Her complicated labor left her with more than the pain of losing a child; it also left her with obstetric fistula.

  • Everlyn

    Kenya

    Everlyn developed fistula during her second pregnancy. Shunned and stigmatized by her own family, her husband stood by her side until she received successful treatment through the Action on Fistula program.

  • Brenda

    Brenda

    Kenya

    Thanks to a newly opened fistula hospital close to her home in Kisii, Kenya, 17-year-old Brenda was able to get treatment after six months. Now that she is healed, she has dreams of returning to school to become a nurse.

  • Felana

    Madagascar

    At the tender age of 15, Felana became pregnant. She suffered a prolonged obstructed labor, and by the time her stillborn baby was delivered, she had developed obstetric fistula.

  • Fatma

    Tanzania

    When 18 year-old Fatma became pregnant, she did not have early and quality access to the healthcare she wanted when she gave birth. Fatma developed a fistula as a result of prolonged labor.

  • Wilmina

    Kenya

    “The last 22 years have been years of great pain, loss and very deep sorrows. I lost my baby, later lost my marriage, lost friends, and lost my only family (my parents). Fistula robbed me of everything that I once valued, and I have been left very empty.”

  • Fistula Foundation - Kamala

    Kamala

    Nepal

    Kamala is a 47 year old mother of four and from a very remote area of western Nepal known as Dailekh. She lived with fistula for eight years, but thankfully is one of few patients who had the support of her husband the entire time.

  • Janet

    Kenya

    Janet can't explain how she ended up at the political rally that day, but it changed her life forever.