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

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Read Another Woman’s Story

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    Nigeria

    72 year old Aidah lived with obstetric fistula for an astounding 41 years before accessing treatment at Evangel Vesico-Vaginal Fistula Center in Jos. Her family stuck by her side the entire time, and recounted to hospital staff how fistula severely limited her (and their) opportunities and success in life.

  • Jenipher

    Zambia

    While giving birth to her fifth child in 1998, Jenipher endured a prolonged labor, and her baby was stillborn. Afterwards, Jenipher began leaking uncontrollably- she had developed an obstetric fistula. After 18 years of living with fistula, she had all but given up hope of getting treatment, until she heard a comforting voice on the radio.

  • Pushpa

    Nepal

    Pushpa is approximately 50 years old and from a remote village in western Nepal. When she arrived at Kathmandu Model Hospital, she was leaking urine and feces uncontrollably and was severely depressed.

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    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.

  • Odeline

    Chad

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  • Reeta

    Nepal

    Reeta arrived at International Nepal Foundation's fistula clinic with her younger son, Tej. They live in Kanchenpur, a 9 hour journey by bus from Surkhet. Reeta developed an obstetric fistula after her youngest son’s birth 33 years ago. She had delivered two sons previously at home without difficulty, but the third labor was more complicated.

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    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.

  • 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.

  • Umuhoza

    Rwanda

    Umuhoza arrived at the hospital with two massive fistulas and could barely walk. She was so traumatized by her labor that she could not remember any details. Today she is healed, but the road to recovery has been long and difficult.

  • Helen

    Kenya

    Helen went into labor with her second child about four years ago. She gave birth in her home, where she labored for many hours, completely alone without anyone present to assist her. Her baby was stillborn and she began leaking urine immediately.

  • Faith C.

    Kenya

    A terrifying rape resulted in pregnancy and an obstetric fistula for Faith. But today she is healed and looking forward to a future where she can use her experience to help other women in similar positions.

  • Josephine-Congo

    Josephine

    Democratic Republic of the Congo

    Josephine is from the northwestern corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo. 34 years old, she is the mother of two healthy boys, ages 11 and 9, the only surviving children from her four pregnancies.

  • Serafina

    Angola

    Serafina is 18 years old and from the Mukubal tribe in southwestern Angola. Married off at a young age and one of several wives, Serafina became pregnant when she was 14. She is very small-boned and was suffering from malnutrition when she came to the hospital, as food is often scarce in that part of the country. As a result of that and other factors, her delivery did not go well.

  • NIrmala-Nepal

    Nirmala

    Nepal

    Nirmala is 25. She lives in Doti, in the far western region of Nepal. For many years, she lived in India, where her husband had found work. While living in India, she gave birth to her first child, a stillborn baby that was delivered after 24 hours of difficult labor that left Nirmala with a double fistula, in her bowels and bladder.

  • Evelyn

    Kenya

    “It was so painful to leave the hospital with the few clothes I had bought for my baby. It was painful to walk out of the gates empty handed [without a baby] and to worsen the matter, with the leaking of urine."

  • Tahinomenjanahary

    Madagascar

    Tahinomenjanahary went in to labor at the age of 17. Her labor was excruciating, but she did not begin the journey to the nearest hospital until she had been in labor for more than a day. In total, she labored for three days. The baby did not survive.

  • Confidence from Liberia (WAHA)

    Confidence

    Liberia

    Pregnant with her second child, Confidence went to a local hospital to deliver her baby. But when her labor became obstructed, hospital staff weren’t able to perform the necessary Cesarean section and transferred her to a larger facility. Sadly, it was too late.

  • Rose

    Tanzania

    Rose developed a fistula after her very first pregnancy, and has been suffering because of it ever since. For over fifty years she struggled, never knowing that treatment was available....until recently when she met Sister Anna, the head nurse of Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center's fistula ward in Moshi.