Hope for Healing: Event raises funds for little-known medical condition



More than two million women worldwide suffer from fistulas, but few American students even know what a fistula is.

On Saturday, UK will host the Change One Woman’s Life event in hopes of raising money to provide a cure for four women with fistulas. The event is sponsored by the UK College of Dentistry Class of 2013, Student National Dental Association, the African Student Association and UK’s Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources, & Related Sciences.

“One woman said she’d rather have her arm cut off than have a fistula,” said Haregewoin Baye, a second year dental student who is helping plan the event. “It’s just heartbreaking.”

According to The Fistula Foundation website, a fistula is “simply a hole between an internal organ and the outside world that should not exist.” Women in developing countries get fistulas of the bladder or rectum as the result of childbirth or sexual violence. A woman with a fistula suffers from uncontrollable urination or defecation.

“They can’t join the rest of society because they smell,” Baye said. “Their husband normally leaves them and they are left to fend for themselves.”

Fortunately, the cure for fistulas is simple and relatively inexpensive. According to the Fistula Foundation, it costs $450 dollars to treat a fistula. Because they received all donated supplies for the Change One Woman’s Life Event, event planners will donate 100 percent of the proceeds directly to a Fistula Foundation patient’s treatment.

According to the Foundation’s website, “there are 100,000 new fistula cases each year, but the international capacity to treat fistula remains at only 6,500 per year.” The patients who get treatment for a fistula usually see results.

“Their surgery is 90 percent successful,” Baye said. “If it’s not successful, they find ways for the women to live more normally.”

The Fistula Foundation allowed event planners to specify that they wanted event proceeds to go directly to medical procedures. “We will be able to track where the money is going,” Baye said. “All we have to do is click on it and see how much is given in our name.”

Saturday’s event goers will enjoy donated food from Planet Thai, Cielito Lindo, SEKI, Mulligan’s, Curry House Casual Indian Dining and Masala, as well as entertainment and fistula education. Baye explained that event planners hope to raise 1,800 dollars–enough to treat four women.

“We are trying to do one woman in four different countries,” Baye said. The four different women will be from Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Afghanistan.

Baye, who is from Ethiopia, said the event has a personal connection for her.

“Let’s just say I can see people I know being in that situation,” Baye said. She explained that in Ethopia, “If you live in the rural area, there are no hospitals so 100 percent of births happen at home.” She said that while many women can survive natural childbirth, “What they can’t survive is when you have medical complications.”

Without medical treatment, a woman does not have the option of a Caesarean section. According to the Fistula Foundation website, that is why fistulas are basically nonexistent in America and Europe, where hospital treatment and Caesarean sections are readily available.

Baye explained that young girls in foreign countries do not understand that they are too young to have children, and medical complications result. Baye said that in the U.S. “there are teenage pregnancies, but you don’t hear about it because they are probably well-nourished and have hospital care.” In many developing countries, however, young mothers have underdeveloped or malnourished frames that cannot accommodate delivering a child, and they develop fistulas in labor as a result.

“It takes two people to make a baby, but when this happens, you are the one who has to deal with it,” Baye said.

She hopes students will come to the Change One Woman’s Life Event and enjoy helping someone else across the globe.

“Ten dollars is a lot as a student. I understand that,” Baye said. “We want it to be informative, but also fun.”

The Change One Woman’s Life event will be Saturday, Sept. 25, from noon to 3 p.m. at the E.S. Good Barn at 1451 University Drive. Tickets are $10. All proceeds go to the Fistula Foundation.