This is the story of Lesley Chepng’etich, businesswoman from Nairobi, aged 37 years. Lesly is divorced, with three children aged 19 years, 12 years and 7 years.
“I was 19 years old when I got pregnant. When my labor pains began at home in Nairobi’s Umoja estate in Eastlands, my mother rushed me to a small private health center in the neighborhood. However, my mother was unimpressed with the treatment and care I received there, where the nurses would neglect me for hours on end. They would take long before coming to check on me and my baby. Frustrated, my mother decided to transfer me to a different hospital –this time a public one. By the time we completed the paper work and the logistics of the transfer, I arrived at the hospital 48 hours since my labor had started at home.
Thankfully, I safely delivered my daughter who was 3.8kgs at birth. Unfortunately though, I got a fourth-degree tear in the process, which the nurses said they repaired successfully.
My joy at being a new mom was cut short when a few days after I returned home, I noticed that I would be unable to control my farts, which was very embarrassing. In addition, I noticed that I would leak feaces in small bits. I never told anybody what was happening to me. I chose to focus on my baby instead, and carry on with my college studies.
When my daughter was 18 months, one of my classmates at the college where I was studying decided to be bold with me, telling me that I carried around a ‘foul’ smell with me. She said that in the morning hours, I would be fresh, but by afternoon, I would be emitting a certain foul smell. I knew what she meant, because what used to happen is that I would leak faeces in small bits such that by afternoon, the accumulation of this would result in a foul odour.
I decided to see a doctor, who, after listening to me, said that I merely had an infection. I doubted his diagnosis because by the time I was going to see him I had researched about fistula, and when I asked him if that was what I was suffering from, he dismissed me and told me to take the medication he had prescribed.
But the leaking never stopped even after I completed my medication.
This smell and the uncontrollable farting affected my life in many ways. I was married, but my husband would keep his distance. He never mentioned that I smelt, but I could tell from his attitude towards me. We went on to have two more children, who I delivered through caesarean section because I would never dilate enough to allow a safe vaginal birth.
My social life changed too, and I stopped visiting friends and family. I avoided family gatherings, Bible Study groups and other such social activities.
My family moved to neighboring Uganda and for many years, while commuting between the two countries, I would avoid eating any solid foods for two days before my trip. This would ensure that I would not pass any stool while in the bus (public transport) and hence not have any smell.
I returned to Nairobi a few years ago, and for the last two years, I have been hearing about the free fistula repair camps by the Flying Doctors Society of Africa (FDSA) and the Freedom from Fistula Foundation (FFF) at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), but in as much as I wanted to come, I was too embarrassed and ashamed. I feared that people would look at me and know my secret. I had never shared my shame with anybody.
However, all that changed when a friend recently got a baby. She was six weeks post-partum when she confided in me, telling me that she noticed she had started leaking stool after she delivered. I immediately felt so much pity for her, knowing all too well the life that was ahead of her. A life of shame and ridicule, a life of never living up to one’s full potential because of the need to hide yourself. For the first time in 19 years, I opened up my story to her. We cried together and resolved to come together for the fistula camp at KNH. I felt that I was no longer alone, and I was happy to come with her.
I thank the organizers and sponsors of this camp because I would never have afforded the expensive costs of the surgery –which I had been told were Sh150,000 at a private hospital. My surgery was successful and I feel born again now. This is a new beginning for me. Thank you FDSA and partners.