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Luchembele’s smile belies a story of profound suffering, heartbreaking for a woman so young; she married and, barely in her teens, became pregnant in a remote Tanzanian village.
“I had four days of labor,” Luchembele said. “The hospital is very far from my village, and though the bus came every day, I started labor on a Friday and the bus didn’t come Saturday or Sunday, so I waited at home until Monday.”
Struggling to deliver a still born baby, the breech birth nearly killed her. Exhausted and overwhelmed, Luchembele soon realized her troubles were far from over.
Luchembele suffered birthing injury called obstetric fistula. This devastating injury often afflicts young mothers who go through difficult, prolonged labor without medical attention.
Almost unheard of in the West, fistulas are common in much of the developing world. Extended labor brought on by teenage pregnancies and breeched babies can tear a hole, or fistula.
“I knew I had a fistula because I started leaking urine,” Luchembele said. “At first I thought it was normal, but after the second day the doctor explained it was a problem.”
Luchembele’s only hope was to have surgery to repair her injury at the AmeriCares-supported Bugando Medical Centre, which offers charitable health care to a community of 14 million people in Tanzania. AmeriCares provides a range of medical supplies, from catheters to surgical sutures – as well as medicines and infection control items.
“When I arrived at Bugando they told me that I would be alright, that I was welcome,” Luchembele said. “I was so happy. I saw that other girls had this problem, when I thought it was only me.”
Luchembele received the surgery she needed to repair her fistula at the hospital, remaining three weeks for observation, rehabilitation and participation in support programs. “I will be very, very happy, because I want to go home and tell them I am cured,” Luchembele said.
AmeriCares and Bugando have also launched a targeted maternal health program for fistula sufferers and the impact is unmistakable. Women like Luchembele, who would otherwise have continued to suffer have been able to return to normalcy, bond with other women dealing with the same challenges and learn valuable literacy and life skills.