On Saturday Feb. 16, Dr. Susan Hardwick-Smith, a Houston-area obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN) and founder of Complete Women’s Care Center, will make her first trip to the West African country of Sierra Leone. Dr. Hardwick-Smith will make the trek in conjunction with the Texas based West Africa Fistula Foundation (WAFF), to help bring an end to the devastating effects of Obstetric Fistula.
“As a doctor in this wonderful country I am constantly aware of how very lucky we are,” said Hardwick-Smith. “While many of us complain about our healthcare system, most of us have access to at least basic healthcare. We expect a safe, good outcome from normal events like having a baby. But for many women in Sierra Leone in West Africa, having a baby is a truly dangerous business with maternal and neonatal death rates among the highest in the world. Horrific complications such as fistula formation?the development of a hole between the bladder or rectum and vagina? causing permanent and constant fecal or urinary leakage, are common.”
Many of the 2–3 million women who suffer from fistulas worldwide are ostracized by the communities that they live in and their husbands often abandon them to fend for themselves.
“I feel passionately that I have a duty to help these women with the skills that I have developed as an OB/GYN in this country,” said Hardwick-Smith. “And that includes helping to educate local healthcare providers in Sierra Leone to understand how to prevent fistula formation as well as how to perform the surgical repair needed to help the women already suffering.”
Hardwick-Smith pays for her own travel expenses and donates her services –but she wanted to do more.
Even with services and travel donated, the surgical procedures cost nearly $1,000 per woman, plus the WAFF provides not only badly needed medical treatment, but also a working staff within the country to establish local care and treatment for this terrible condition.
Funds donated to the WAFF help to provide:
- Treatment for ongoing cases
- Preoperative hostel for waiting patients
- Education to help prevent fistula
- Postoperative treatment and care
- Reintegration into society through vocational school or enterprise training
To say that Dr. Hardwick-Smith is driven is an understatement. When she does something, she does it BIG. She is the founder of a busy ten-provider OB/GYN practice, is a renowned obstetrician and gynecologic surgeon, wife, mother of three (two of the three are twins), marathon runner and now Ironman triathlete.
“I decided to train for the Ironman to raise awareness about the plight of these women in Sierra Leone,” said Hardwick-Smith. “Let’s face it, training and competing in an Ironman triathlon event (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike race and a 26.2 mile marathon) could rank up among the most selfish activities in the world.
Months of training upward of 12 hours a week mean those hours are taken away from friends and family. But thinking about those women and their incredible suffering fueled me, my family, my friends and my associates. Doing something really challenging, overwhelming and often painful to help others is a spiritual journey–one we were all willing to take.”
On November 18, 2012, sporting a shirt she had made featuring the West Africa Fistula Foundation logo, Dr. Susan Hardwick-Smith crossed the finish line in 12 hours, 45 minutes having raised more than $31,000 and carrying in her heart the hopes of millions of women that they would not be forgotten.