Tributes flow for Catherine Hamblin, heralded as the “new Mother Teresa of our age” | The Northern Daily Leader


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Australia, and the wider Tamworth region, is mourning the loss of an Australian obstetrician and gynaecologist who was heralded the “new Mother Teresa of our age”. Dr Catherine Hamlin was often described as a living saint and died on Wednesday at her home in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, aged 96. She had long connections to the Tamworth area and would return to the North West where she had family. Far from the comfort of her privileged childhood in Sydney, Dr Hamlin devoted her life to helping African women overcome debilitating birth injuries. READ ALSO: For 60 years, Dr Hamlin lived in Ethiopia where she and her husband, Dr Reg Hamlin, established clinics to help the nation’s desperately poor women overcome obstetric fistulas suffered in childbirth. Her biographer John Little described her as a “marvel” and quoted The New York Times which wrote “Dr Hamlin is the new Mother Teresa of our age.” Tamworth had been a great supporter of the Hamlin cause in years gone by, not least driven by her brother Jock Nicholson and sister-in-law Louise, who lived and farmed at Weabonga. The Nicholsons often hosted Dr Hamlin during her Aussie holidays in Weabonga and it was often a respite for a woman recognised by the United Nations, as well as world health agencies, for her groundbreaking work. Born Elinor Catherine Nicholson in Sydney on January 24, 1924, she grew up as one of six children in suburban Ryde and was educated at Frensham girls’ boarding school in Mittagong, NSW. In an interview with ABC television in 2008, the obstetrician and gynaecologist described her childhood as “privileged”, living in a large, convict-built house with servants. After graduating in medicine from the University of Sydney in 1946, she met Reg Hamlin while both were working at Crown Street Women’s Hospital in Sydney. He was 15 years her senior and her superintendent. She said their relationship developed while he helped train her to do difficult deliveries and he proposed to her while in his office, from the other side of his desk. After marrying and moving to Adelaide’s Queen Victoria Hospital for some years, the couple saw an advertisement to establish a midwifery school in Ethiopia in 1959. It was there they encountered patients suffering obstetric fistula, a birthing injury virtually unknown in the developed world. It occurs during lengthy labour, when a hole forms in a woman’s bladder or bowel that causes incontinence and requires surgery. Dr Hamlin co-founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, which has treated the fistula injuries of more than 50,000 women. Her fundraising efforts for the hospital led her to speak all over the world, including an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, after which the host personally donated $US500,000 and three million new donors contributed to Dr Hamlin’s work. She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 1983 for her services to gynaecology in developing countries, and in 1995 was promoted to the grade of Companion of the Order of Australia. After the death of her husband in 1993 she wrote a book about her experiences in Ethiopia, The Hospital by the River: A Story of Hope with Little’s help. Little later wrote his own book about her, Catherine’s Gift, which was published in 2008. Dr Hamlin was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, and again in 2014. The Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia charity was created in 2012 at the request of the Australian doctor to raise funds for a number of medical centres, including her hospital. In February 2015, Hamlin received a visit by fellow Australian, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, at the hospital where she lived. In 2016 a Sydney ferry was named the Catherine Hamlin in her honour, and in December of that year Dr Hamlin issued a statement from the Ethiopian hospital where she still lived to thank all her supporters in Australia and around the world for their help. “Fistula is a tragic injury that causes enormous sadness,” she wrote. “The women often have to live alone and their lives are very tragic but they can be cured, and many of them have become wonderful citizens of Ethiopia and are helping others with similar birth injuries. “Although I am retired I still get great joy from seeing women cured.” Australian Associated Press

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