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Letter: ‘Angel’ of medicine nominated for Nobel

Published: Friday, April 11, 2014 11:35 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, April 14, 2014 9:02 a.m. CDT

To the Editor: 

I have an amazing story to tell you about a most wonderful, charitable person named Catherine Hamlin, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Catherine lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We met her when my late husband Frank and I went to Ethiopia for four years in the 1990s. 

Catherine and her late husband, Reg, were both OB/GYN doctors. They arrived in Ethiopia as 24-year-olds with plans to spend about three months, and they never left.

Catherine turned 90 in January with her patients and son, Richard, surrounding her. Richard made a statement that he was her only son, but she had 35,000 daughters!

Catherine and Reg started a hospital in Addis Ababa now known as the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Hospital. An obstetric fistula is a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder caused by prolonged obstructed labor (sometimes lasting as long as 6 or 7 days), leaving a woman incontinent.

These types of fistulas often happen when young girls in remote villages have difficult labors, and there is no doctor to perform a cesarean section. Because of the effects of the fistula, the girls are often ostracized by their villages.

When they eventually find a way from their villages to her hospital, she and her staff care for them in a dormitory-type room until they are well enough to be operated on. 

Catherine and her husband devised an operation that they have taught many doctors to rid women of the fistula problem. When they recover, the women are given new clothes and money to return home. 

Most importantly, Catherine Hamlin has given countless girls and young women their lives back. There are now clinics throughout Ethiopia staffed by midwives she has trained.

For more on this story, I suggest you read columnist Nicholas Kristof’s piece on her from the Feb. 5 New York Times. 

Catherine learned in January that she had been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by the Ethiopian government. 

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am for her. Frank and I had many lunches with Catherine, and one of my sons and daughter and their spouses were also fortunate to have met her.  My daughter remarked, “I just talked to an angel,” when she met her.

Let’s hope that the Nobel committee recognizes this angel as well.

Mary Beth Van Buer

DeKalb

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