Women ostracized from child birth complications find hope in Mer - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Women ostracized from child birth complications find hope in Mercy Ships


A global organization that calls East Texas their home is working to improve the lives of women impacted by obstetric fistulas.

An obstetric fistula occurs after childbirth complications leave an internal hole in a woman's body. The World Health Organization estimates that there are 50,000-100,000 new cases of obstetric fistula each year.

It's not so much of a problem in the United States because of our advanced medical care, but in Africa, East Texas based Mercy Ships has preformed 2,800 obstetric fistula-related procedures on women with the condition.

In the U.S., about 1 in 7,500 women die in childbirth each year. In West Africa, that statistic is 1 in 12.

Of the women who live, many have their bodies destroyed by obstetric fistulas.

"An obstetric fistula is a hole or a tear that develops after obstructed or prolonged labor and it renders the woman incontinent afterward," says Michelle Bullington, the Mercy Ships Programs Design Director.

These incontinent women lose their bladder control, resulting in the frequent and involuntary leaking of their own waste.

"When we gather somewhere for a meeting or celebration, people have their eyes on me and they will see each other's face and make signs. When I get up, they all have a glance at the place where I sit to see if the place is wet," one woman with the condition says.

"Unfortunately, she becomes very ostracized from her communities and sometimes people think that she's cursed. Sometimes even their husbands abandon them or leave them," says Michelle.

For 10 months each year, Mercy Ships docks in developing countries to operate on the poor. They provide reconstructive surgeries as well as dental/oral and visual surgeries. Doctors on-board the ship also train doctors from African countries in how to perform the surgeries themselves.

"For us in Mercy Ships, it's a faith community that are all there for the purpose of following the model of Jesus as we bring hope and healing for the world's forgotten and poor," says Don Stephens, Mercy Ships President and Founder.

"I didn't know other people had this sickness. I thought I was alone, but now I know that I'm not the only one," says the African woman who turned to Mercy Ships for help.

After recovery, the women are made-up in beautiful dresses to celebrate. They sing and dance because their hope has been restored.

"You can see the change and it's remarkable. They're praising God and they are so thankful. They didn't know that hope was even possible," says Michelle.

Thanks to the volunteers on Mercy Ships, the possibility of living a normal life again has become a reality for many women.

Mercy Ships is raising awareness in preparation for International Day to End Obstetric Fistula on Wednesday. Since 1989, Mercy Ships has been based in East Texas. 

President and founder Don Stephens says, "There's a basic understanding of good and evil and God-fearing people here in East Texas that I think makes it one of the best places in the world."

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