For the past five years, Dr. Charles Mueller, a General Surgeon with The Oregon Clinic Surgical & Burn Specialists, has worked with the non-profit organization Dignity: Liberia to perform obstetric fistula repair surgery on women in Liberia. He has volunteered alongside his wife, Anne-Marie Mueller, RN, who works with the local nursing school to promote education and provide resources.
Dignity Liberia’s mission is to bring “restoration and hope to women with fistula and their communities through healing, education, and prevention.” The group carries this out by providing medical services, supplies, volunteers, education, and an overall caring presence to the people of Liberia.
Obstetric fistula is common in Liberian women who range in age from 11 to 22. It can be caused by childbirth or sexual abuse. In addition to the physical symptoms women with this condition suffer, such as back pain and incontinence, these women also endure social isolation due to the leakage and smell. Women may stop eating in an attempt to minimize their symptoms, which leads to further complications, like malnutrition.
“These women have been ostracized by their villages and families,” Dr. Mueller said. “By having restorative surgery and newly taught skills, they are now self-sufficient.”
In Liberia, there are fewer than ten physicians who are able to perform obstetric fistula repair and medical supplies are very limited. Women who are able to get to a hospital may wait as long as 18 months or more to receive care.
“The lack of basic supplies and comforts does not cause resentment, but joy at whatever situation is at hand,” Dr. Mueller said. “This gratitude for life has always overwhelmed me.”
Learn more information at: dignityliberia.org