Seattle’s fight against fistulas around the world

Motivated by her own complicated pregnancy, Heidi Breeze-Harris founded One by One, a Seattle-based organization working to wipe out obstetric fistula in Africa.

When Heidi Breeze-Harris realized she was going to be laid up for most of a very complicated pregnancy, she worried about how she would pass the time.

But the answer arrived in the first month. Breeze-Harris was in bed, watching an episode of Oprah, when she first learned about the birthing injury obstetric fistula.

“It’s a hole in the body where a hole doesn’t belong,” says Breeze-Harris describing how long, obstructed labors can tear the bladder or rectum. “The woman is left with a hole through which she will leak her waste uncontrollably.”

Fistula is almost nonexistent in the United States. Women here usually have cesarean sections to relieve obstructed labors, or it is immediately repaired through surgery. But in poor parts of the world, fistula, and the constant leaking waste that accompanies it, can have horrifying consequences.

“They are at the end of the line,” says Breeze-Harris, explaining that women with fistula — many of whom lost their baby in the labor that injured them — are unable to work or socialize, often shunned by their communities and even believed to be cursed.

“This is considered by many aid workers to be modern-day leprosy.”

Seattle’s fight against fistulas around the world |  Sarah Stuteville | May 9, 2013