Maura Lynch, fistula fighter and nun.
Maura Lynch (B. 1938; q Dublin 1964; FRCOG, FRCSI), sustained a fracture after a fall. She developed complications after surgery and died unexpectedly on 9th December 2017.
When Maura Lynch entered the Order of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, two days before her 18th birthday, she was hoping to spend her life serving poor populations in Africa. By the time of her death at the age of 79 in Kampala, Uganda, the surgeon-nun had spent 50 years on that continent and the past three decades setting up and running an obstetric fistula clinic in Kitovu Mission Hospital, Masaka. She rejoiced in restoring to health women who were often shunned by their families because of incontinence and she was particularly fond of quoting the case of an 85 year old woman who underwent successful surgery after 40 years of incontinence. “Afterwards we danced” said Sister Maura. “As a ministry, I think it beats all. It’s so worthwhile.”
Between 1993 and 2007, Sister Maura performed more than 1000 repair operations. She was honoured by the Ugandan government and on a state visit to Dublin in 2003, President Yoweri Museveni requested her presence at a reception to thank her for her contribution to medical services in Uganda.
The 28 bed unit and dedicated operating theatre Sister Maura set up in the mission hospital provides 250 operations a year, many done by surgeons from overseas. Women, alerted to the clinic by announcements on Ugandan radio, are treated free and then offered free antenatal care and caesarean delivery if they go on to have a baby.
The unit is supported by the UK’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which granted Sister Maura an honorary fellowship in 2013.
Commitment to human dignity.
While Sister Maura had no misgivings about her career – “She had lived her vision and had no regrets about her choices,” according to her sister, Breda Rogers – she was saddened by the persistence of a preventable injury.
In Uganda alone, she said, an estimated 192,000 women were still affected by obstetric fistula and she called for better education of girls and more medical staff to carry out free operations. According to the World Health Organisation, between 50,000 and 100,000 women worldwide are affected by obstetric fistula every year, which is directly linked to obstructed labour, often resulting in the death of the baby.
Maura Lynch was born in Youghal, County Cork, the fourth of nine children of Patrick, who worked for the Irish postal service and his wife Jane, a former teacher. The family spoke Irish at home.
After school at Laurel Hill College, Limerick and having become a nun, Sister Maura studied medicine at University College Dublin, one of the top three students in her year to graduate. After a two year internship at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, she studied Portuguese in Lisbon and in 1967 moved to Angola for her first overseas assignment. She worked at the 200 bed Chiulo Mission Hospital, where with only one other medical sister, she treated the wounds of both sides during the civil war and cared for large numbers of patients with tuberculosis and leprosy. “When it came to surgery, she was fearless and ready to treat whoever came through the door, but always starting each operation with a prayer,” her sister Breda recalled.
At the age of 46, she interrupted her missionary work and returned to Dublin for training and was awarded the fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1985.
In 1987, Sister Maura was assigned to Uganda, as consultant surgeon and obstetrician to the 200 bed Kitovu Mission Hospital, where she pioneered the fistula repair service, establishing a dedicated ward and operating theatre and fundraising for many years to ensure a free service.
“Maura was practical, pragmatic, enormous fun and a natural doctor,” said Mhairi Collie, consultant colorectal surgeon at Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, who made four working visits to the Kitovu unit in recent years. “When I last saw her in 2017, she had just been on call for two weeks – quite something in your late 70s,” said Mhairi. “Always full of energy and enthusiasm, she took enormous interest in training staff as well as in the patients themselves. She loved people and put great efforts into getting sponsorship.”
In 2013, Sister Maura took part in a six mile sponsored run in Dublin to raise €5,000 for an overhead lamp for the operating theatre. Her surgery practice was restricted 10 years ago by a detached retina, which proved inoperable, but she attended operations and supervised staff. When a fellow sister suggested her partial loss of sight must be frustrating, Sister Maura said: “I don’t think what I can’t do, I just think of what I can still do.”
Predeceased by three brother and a sister, Sister Maura Lynch leaves three brothers and a sister.
Joanna Lyall, London. Joannalyall50@gmail.com BMJ 2018;360:k1379 Copyright The BMJ 2018, 5th May 2018.
With thanks to the Editor of the Bristish Medical Journal for permission to reprint this obituary.