I spend a lot of my time sitting next to hospital beds with a translator, listening to patients’ voices echo in and out of English. Every story is unique, of course, but sometimes I hear one that makes me go “WHAT! No way. Can you ask her again? Are you sure that’s what she said?” And my kind, sweet, amazing translator laughs and has to remind me that she is, in fact, fluent in 14 languages (14!) and she is certain that she knows what the patient said, so if I could please sit back down we will carry on with the interview. Sorry, I say in a calmer whispery voice, I just get so excited over patients who have these incredible life stories, which is, like, every single one. There are not enough hours in the day.
Binta traveled from a tiny village in the farthest region of the country to our hospital for surgery. Binta had (note the past tense) VVF. Unless you are familiar with women’s health in developing nations, I don’t expect that you would know what VVF is – I certainly didn’t. VVF (vesicovaginal fistula) is a devastating condition caused in childbirth when women who need C-sections don’t have them. There are 100,000 new cases of VVF in Sub-Saharan Africa each year.
Here is the story I wrote about Binta:
What could possibly compel a poor woman in West Africa to travel over 1000 kilometers – a journey that would take six months and exhaust all of her resources and ingenuity – to get to a hospital ship? The answer is stark in its simplicity – the journey was born out of a desperate, fragile hope that she could find healing and restoration.
Binta lives in southeast Guinea. Six months ago, a man in her village told her about news he had heard on the radio – a hospital ship was coming to the nation’s capital, Conakry. “The ship has doctors that can help you,” the man said.
Binta is in her late thirties and has suffered from vesicovaginal fistula (VVF), a devastating childbirth injury, since she was a teenager. During several days of prolonged, obstructed labor, Binta’s baby was stillborn during a traumatizing delivery. The injury to her birth canal made Binta incontinent; she has been continuously leaking urine for years. Her condition made her an outcast within her own remote village. But now there was news that she could be “fixed” and she dared to hope.
With the little money she had, Binta set out on her journey.
She traveled from her village in the dense rainforest region to the city of Senko. Once there, she used what little money she had to pay for transportation to the next city – Beyla. It was her first time to ever ride in a car.
From Beyla to Nzerekore to Macenta to Gueckedou to Kissidougou to Conakry – a blur of new sights and sounds. She stopped when she had to, staying in one city for up to two months where she worked doing laundry to save enough money for the next leg of her journey. She paid people with cars or motorbikes to give her a lift. Binta traveled more than 661 miles (1063 km) in 6 months to seek help from Mercy Ships.
Finally, she arrived on the dock – with no money and only the clothes on her back. “It was something inside of me that told me, ‘Do it!’” Binta said. The Africa Mercy is the first ship she has ever seen.
Last week, Mercy Ships volunteer surgeon Dr. Steve Arrowsmith repaired Binta’s fistula. Today she is dry. She no longer leaks urine; she no longer smells. And now, Binta longs to return home to her sister’s children, triplets, whom she has cared for since her sister passed away in 2011. Because there are no phones there, Binta hasn’t spoken with her family since she left. Fortunately, she will get home to them soon – a much simpler journey this time, with assistance from Mercy Ships.
And Binta will return home with a dry skirt, a full heart and a new life.