43 year-old Hellen Cherotich Sanga describes the last nine years of her life as a ‘complete nightmare’. It all began after the birth of her second child –ironically, an event that is supposed to bring a mother untold joy and happiness.
“Even though I delivered in hospital under the guidance of skilled birth attendants, something went wrong with my tear (episiotomy). The nurse cut me up and the tear went all the way up to my anus. This then caused me to start leaking faeces uncontrollably,” she says.
A few days after birth, an uncomfortable Hellen who knew something was wrong returned to the hospital. The nurses then stitched her up again. She returned home to her family, relieved that the unpleasant stool leaking episodes were over.
But things did not turn out that way.
“I still continued leaking faces. When I returned to hospital, the nurses told me there was nothing they could do because they had already ‘done so much’. They told me to return home and concentrate on taking care of my newborn,” she remembers.
At home, Hellen, a kindergarten teacher, decided to make the best of her situation. She reduced her food intake so that she wouldn’t feel the need to pass stool often. She also decided to wear diapers in order to contain the faeces. Unfortunately, these did not work out well for her.
“While the diapers did indeed contain the stool and prevent me from soiling my clothes, I would however get many infections in my vaginal area due to the movement of the stool from the back to the front. I had to stop wearing diapers because I was always in hospital seeking treatment from vaginal infections,” she says.
Hellen had developed recto-vaginal fistula (RVF) following the birth of her child. But despite the negative outcome of the birth of her second child, it did not deter Hellen for having more children, for four years later, in 2010, she gave birth to her third child.
Unfortunately though, Hellen says that the tear only got worse after this delivery.
“It became larger, meaning more faeces passed out. This time round, they took me to theatre to have the tear stitched,” she says.
However, after the stitches wore off, the stool continued leaking as before. Nothing had changed. She was distraught.
Hellen is grateful that because she teaches young children, she did not have to quit work, scared and ashamed to be among fellow adults.
“Children are innocent and will not gossip you with malicious intent. Besides, whenever I had a strong foul smell, they would assume that it was one of them that had farted and would not make a big deal of it,” she says.
Hellen would however always stay away from the staff room but when it was absolutely necessary that she be there, she would isolate herself in a corner, away from the rest of her colleagues.
That was her life for nine years, until she saw an announcement on local television station Citizen TV, calling on women who leaked urine or faeces – or both, to make their way to the Kisii Level 5 Hospital for free treatment. Hellen heeded to this call and underwent a successful recto-vaginal repair surgery.
Today, Hellen walks with a gait in her step.
“I feel different. I feel new; refreshed. It is as though I have gotten a new lease of life. I had lost all hope in life, but now I will now be able to comfortably mingle with my colleagues in the staff room. I have no shame or fear anymore,” an elated Hellen concludes.
Hellen is one of the 73 women who benefited from the free fistula camp at the Kisii Level 5 Hospital in September 2015. She was one of the 42 RVF cases that were operated on. The VVF/RVF camp was sponsored by the Freedom from Fistula Foundation (FFF), the Flying Doctors Society of Africa (FDSA), in collaboration with Royal Media Services and the Kisii Level 5 Hospital.