On the evening of their arrival, the Hamlins were doing their best to settle into their new home, when a fellow gynecologist came to visit. That doctor described obstetric fistula to the Hamlins, neither of whom had ever seen an obstetric fistula before. "To us they were an academic rarity," Catherine recalls in her book, The Hospital by the River.
Before the Hamlins came to Addis Ababa, there was no treatment available for fistula victims anywhere in the world. Most such injured women – and there were thousands – had suffered in silence for years.
Reginald and Catherine quickly began to learn everything they could about obstetric fistula, a condition that had all but disappeared in the United States in 1895, when the first fistula hospital closed its doors in New York. The Hamlins perfected a surgical technique to mend the injuries, while continuing to treat a broad range of obstetric cases. In their first year in Ethiopia, the Hamlins treated 30 fistula patients.
The founding of a hospital
Through first hand experience, the Hamlins quickly became aware of the suffering endured by women with fistulas. Fistula victims are usually shunned so severely due to their odor that even other patients refuse to be near them. Reginald and Catherine knew the fistula women deserved a hospital of their own. The Hamlins worked for more than a decade to establish a fistula hospital, even through a military coup when most foreigners fled Ethiopia. Finally, in 1974, the Hamlins opened the doors of Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. It remains the only medical center in the world dedicated exclusively to fistula repair.
Source: The Fistula Foundation: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.fistulafoundation.org/img/hospitalhistory01.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.fistulafoundation.org/hospital/history/&usg=__diqViv8IBuGb7_jh02K3t6U5Z0Q=&h=250&w=225&sz=60&hl=en&start=11&um=1&tbnid=wLdC7YzyqN2ndM:&tbnh=111&tbnw=100&prev=/images%3Fq%3DCatherine%2Band%2BReginald%2BHamlin%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26um%3D1