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Paulina's Story

A Dream Realized after 25 Years

Paulina was lying on her bed listening to the radio when she heard something that made her sit up and shout for joy. A woman on the "Health Watch" program on Radio Nigeria was describing her problem exactly, calling it obstetric fistula—a secret Paulina had lived with for 25 years and had despaired of ever overcoming. The radio host said that she could be healed, free of charge, through surgery. As soon as she heard the news, Paulina knew her life would be transformed.

Twenty-five years earlier, Paulina had given birth to a daughter. She labored for days, first at home, then at a church, then at two hospitals. By the time she reached the second hospital, she was so weak that she could not sign any forms. The cousin who was accompanying her lifted her limp hand to push a thumbprint of consent.

Later, as she was recovering from her prolonged labor, Paulina realized that she was leaking urine uncontrollably. She padded herself to try to soak up the urine. This went on for years. She managed to hide her problem and continued her studies, finishing school and finding a job, while at the same time raising her daughter.

Paulina spent a great deal of money in hopes of being cured, but to no avail. First, she had an operation that was unsuccessful. Following that, she met a doctor who told her he could repair her at his private hospital, but he took her money and then did not operate.

No one knew about the leaking except Paulina, her husband, and their families, but even so, Paulina felt the sting of stigma. Her in-laws told her husband to remarry, and after her fruitless efforts to be healed, even Paulina urged her husband to find another wife. Her husband married again, and Paulina's co-wife bore five children. Paulina did not think that she would ever be able to control her urine again, until that fateful day when she heard that surgical repair for fistula was available. The ACQUIRE/Fistula Care Project, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and led by EngenderHealth, supports six Nigerian hospitals to provide surgery to women like Paulina who suffer from obstetric fistula.

At the end of the Radio Nigeria broadcast, the host invited listeners who had fistula to call in for referrals to health facilities providing repair. Paulina called and was given an appointment for surgery at a hospital that ACQUIRE/Fistula Care supports.

Today, Paulina is dry again, completely restored to health. She is eager to counsel other women with fistula who may have given up hope as she once did. Paulina wants to advise women to seek skilled care when they are giving birth. She is very grateful to the ACQUIRE/Fistula Care Project for transforming her life.

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