An Interview with a GWHI Founding Member and the World Wide Fistula Fund Executive Board member – Tracy Spitznagle

Tracy Spitznagle has been involved in the international education of Urogynecologist and Physical Therapists as well as a provider of clinical services for the World Wide Fistula Fund since 2011 She has served in many leadership roles within her profession as a Women’s Health Physical Therapist.  Included in these positions is serving on the Board of Directors of the APTA Section on Women’s Health and Chair of the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialists.  She is also a very busy clinician and educator at Washington University in St Louis and a strong advocate for Women’s rights.  It is no wonder she has committed herself to the work of the Global Women’s Health Initiative both as a Board Member and as a donor!  The GWHI is focusing this time of the year towards giving and has partnered with the World Wide Fistula Fund during Giving Tuesday.  This amazing physical therapist sat down with us to talk about her involvement on the international stage.

What is the Vision/Mission of the World Wide Fistula Fund?
The World Wide Fistula Fund was developed by Dr Lewis Wall in 1995 to help women heal from birth related injuries.  The initial focus of WFF was fistula repair, however, now the organization is also caring for women with pelvic organ prolapse and post-partum dysfunctions.  Prolapse is now a 3rd world epidemic – and for the women of these regions – fistula and prolapse is believed at times to be a “curse” which limits their interactions with their families and communities as well as their ability to obtain education and earn a living.

Tracy, how did you get started with the World Wide Fistula Fund?  
I met Dr. Louis Wall in 2001 while in clinical practice at Washington University.  He was interviewing for a position as the Chair of Urogynecology and I was on the interview team.  At the time of his initial interview, He discussed my possible involvement in assisting women in Africa.  A few years later, The WFF sent me to Ethiopia to teach and observe at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital.

What has been your focus of your work with the World Wide Fistula Fund? 
My focus in the beginning was providing education for the PT staff at the Hamlin Fistula Center in Addis Ababa.  I worked with the staff treating women pre and post fistula surgeries. I supplemented the established rehabilitation program with lectures on lower extremity strengthening and care for foot impairments commonly found in the survivors of Fistula.  Over the years, as my participation grew, I was asked to join the Board of Directors.  After my second year on the Board, I was asked to join the executive council and served as secretary.  Now I continue to serve on the executive council as the Treasurer and the board representative for our Danja Fistula Hospital in Niger.
 
How has your practice with the World Wide Fistula Fund changed?
During my tenure with this organization, I have moved into al teaching role with the Urogynecology Fellowship program.  I have provided pelvic health lectures for both Physicians and Physical Therapists at the University of Mekelle.  In June of 2016, I was asked to facilitate the recruitment of faculty to enhance the Physical Therapy education for their first cohort of 5 students starting in 2017. Graciously, The World Wide Fistula Fund has provide the resources to cover some of the costs for this program, thus allowing Physical Therapy educators to engage in  capacity building within the Masters of Physical Therapy program at the University.  WFF is aiding in the development of the future educators of the Masters of PT program, thus allowing them to grow the PT program in within the scope of the Mekelle Medical School. A  long reaching aim of WFF is  to support  systemic change and sustainable growth of the healthcare services in the Tigren Region of Ethiopia.

What led you to become involved in the Global Women’s Health Initiative?
Rebecca Stephenson – a fellow inaugural board member invited my participation because of my work within the World Wide Fistula Fund.  Her engaging spirit, and never ending positivity has given me great hope that we can join together to make a change. There is an extreme lack of women’s health services in both 3rd world countries and underserved populations in our country.  I hope to transfer what we learn globally to local engagement, I believe that global is local and local is global. 

My overall hope is that GWHI will create resources to send and facilitate Physical Therapy care in underserved regions of the world. I feel so very blessed to be able to support sustainable programs for development of Women’s Health Physical Therapy on a global scale.

Please consider your own personal engagement; we who have so much can make a beautiful difference to those who have not.