Please allow me to introduce you to a gynecologic surgeon and clinical nurse specialist from Fox Chase who believe in caring for women at Fox Chase Cancer Center . . . and beyond. Fox Chase gynecologic surgeon, Mark Morgan, has been traveling to East Africa for more than five years to treat women with obstetric fistula (holes in the bladder and rectum as a result of childbirth). Although this service is unrelated to women’s cancers, a high level of technical expertise such as that gained from work as a gynecologic cancer surgeon is needed to perform these operations safely and effectively. When Carol Cherry learned of Dr. Morgan’s travels, she rallied a group of women from her church to support him. Here is a truly remarkable story of dedication and compassion.
United in Caring for Women at Fox Chase and Beyond
Obstetric fistula is a common problem for women in the developing world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that over 2 million women live with this debilitating condition and 50-100,000 new fistulas occur every year. It was common in the U.S. and other developed countries until modern obstetrical care became commonplace. I have been traveling to East Africa (Eritrea) since 2004 to repair fistulas and to help establish fistula prevention and treatment centers. We receive some support through the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNPFA) campaign to end fistula, but despite the campaign, few people in America are aware of the magnitude of the problem. That is why I was surprised when a nurse with whom I work at Fox Chase Cancer Center, Carol Cherry, approached me about her church’s interest in this cause. I visited the Berwyn United Methodist Church and learned of the United Methodist Church’s efforts to raise awareness of this problem. The church members also helped support my last trip by purchasing much needed medical supplies.
Obstetric fistula occurs mainly because of a lack of obstetrical care. In Africa, many women die during pregnancy and childbirth. Many more are left severely injured with fistulas. In fact, more women die from pregnancy in 1 year than all the people who died in the Darfur crisis over 6 years. Almost everyone has heard of Darfur. We need more than the United Nation’s campaign – it will take efforts of many more organizations like the United Methodist Church to raise awareness so that this scourge can be contained.
Chief, Section of Gynecologic Oncology
Professor, Department of Surgical Oncology
“Operation Healing Hope” helps to address Obstetric Fistula across the Developing World.
As a nurse in the Risk Assessment Program at Fox Chase, I’ve had the opportunity to refer women at increased risk of ovarian cancer to our gynecologic oncology surgeons here at Fox Chase. Together we help women work through the decision-making process to remove their healthy ovaries in order to reduce their cancer risk.
It’s a privilege to work with such caring and skilled surgeons, but also special to find out about a common interest beyond the workplace walls. I had heard that Dr. Mark Morgan volunteered his time in Africa to perform surgeries on women with obstetric fistula. So when I learned about an interest by The United Methodist Church to raise awareness about this global health problem, it provided a great chance to link up with Mark to combine efforts.
In November 2009, Dr. Morgan visited my church, Berwyn United Methodist, to share his work and inspire our women’s mission group to get involved. Fourteen women took part in an awareness project called Operation Healing Hope, an initiative sponsored by the General Board of Church and Society and funded by the United Nations Foundation. The yearlong campaign is aimed at raising awareness and inspiring advocacy to help eradicate obstetric fistula.
Fourteen women took part in the quilt project. The outcome of our time together was not only great fellowship but also a beautiful baby quilt (pictured here), which was sent to Camphor United Methodist Mission in Tubmanville, Liberia. Our quilt, among others will be given to the Traditional Birthing Assistants Association of local midwives to give to mothers and newborns.
The church is training birth assistants there to provide much-needed care to pregnant women, and hopefully reduce the number of cases of obstetric fistula. Pictures of our project and some from Dr. Morgan’s recent trip to Eritrea can be found at www.berwynumc.org/outreach/index.shtml
Carol Cherry, MSN, RN, AOCNS
Project Manager, Risk Assessment Program
To see more pictures like this, visit Berwyn United Methodist Church.