Pedal power - Bruno Cordier

Karen Burge
Med J Aust
Published online: 4 February 2013

A firsthand look at the confronting issue of obstetric fistula in Ethiopia set the wheels in motion for palliative care nurse Bruno Cordier, who has found his own way to raise awareness and funds

Some people like to ring in the New Year by setting a few simple resolutions. Bruno Cordier, on the other hand, set himself a supersized challenge to cycle some 4097 kilometres, all in the name of a good cause.

On 11 January, he embarked on his solo bike ride from Sydney to Perth, without a support vehicle, for a five-week journey in the blazing summer sun. Why? To help raise awareness and much-needed funds for Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia — a charitable organisation set up by Australian obstetrician Dr Catherine Hamlin and her late husband, Dr Reginald Hamlin. The organisation runs six hospitals in Ethiopia where women who have experienced horrific birthing injuries, such as the obstetric fistula, are able to access surgery and rehabilitation. Training is also provided to local midwives.

The Cycling for Fistulas event was organised by Mr Cordier, a palliative care nurse at Bethesda Hospital in Western Australia, and his partner, Dr Gracie Vivian, a resident medical officer at Princess Margaret Hospital who is due to start GP training this year.

The 4000-plus kilometre journey all began with a book. “In March last year, Gracie and I went on a holiday to Ethiopia. On our way there, we picked up Catherine’s gift by John Little from a second-hand bookshop to read on the plane”, Mr Cordier explains.

“With this insight into the inspiring figure that Dr Hamlin is, we decided to visit one of her rural fistula hospitals in Bahir Dar.” It was here that they toured the facility, met with staff and patients, and discovered the important impact the program was having on the community.

“We could see that everything we had read about Catherine Hamlin — her passion, dedication and compassion — was exhibited by the rest of her staff too. The non-government organisation, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, does such unique and important work that we decided there and then to get involved.”

Mr Cordier plans to cycle from Sydney to Mildura, then onto Adelaide, Port Augusta and Ceduna in South Australia. From there, he’ll hit the Nullarbor Plain, which he expects to be the most trying part of the journey. The Nullarbor is a 1100 kilometre stretch of flat, arid country where Mr Cordier will face extreme heat and distances of up to 200 kilometres with no facilities in sight. From there, he expects to cross into WA and travel via Norseman to the Great Eastern Highway and across into Perth.

“The journey will take five weeks. I’m aiming to return on Valentine’s Day. In fact, Gracie is organising a sunset picnic for well wishers who would like to greet me as I ride into South Beach in Fremantle”, he says.

Despite being in great spirits, Mr Cordier knows he’s up for a tough ride. Just days before his departure, most of Australia was enduring a week-long heatwave. So why would he choose to take off in the peak of summer on such a challenging solo trip?

“The answer to this would be primarily that I like a challenge! Although I’ve never done long distance bicycle rides before, let alone in summer, I have done several high altitude treks in freezing weather in Nepal, India and Tibet, some of which were solo”, he explains.

“This fundraiser event presents another challenge of a similar nature — solitude and extreme temperatures. I feel that the mental challenges of being alone and of physical tiredness will be difficult, but formative and rewarding at the same time.”

At the top of his list when he returns home, apart from seeing his proud partner, will be a nice hot shower.

The Fremantle-based couple hope to raise awareness about obstetric fistulas as well as $20 000 in funding. If you would like to donate funds or support Mr Cordier on his journey, visit

Fistula realities

  • Obstetric fistula is a hole in the birth canal caused by obstructed labour. It is estimated that more than 2 million young women live with untreated obstetric fistula in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Each year, between 50 000 to 100 000 women worldwide develop obstetric fistulae.
  • Women who experience this preventable condition suffer constant urinary incontinence, which often leads to social isolation, skin infections, kidney disorders and even death if left untreated.
  • Patients with uncomplicated fistulae can undergo simple surgery to repair the hole in their bladder or rectum. The treatment cures up to 90% of obstetric fistulae. However, since 2003 only 12 000 women in over 45 countries have received obstetric fistula treatment in Africa, Asia and
    the Middle East.

Source: World Health Organization

  • Karen Burge



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