Donegal born pioneer in obstetrics and gynaecology buried in Drogheda

Ann Ward in Itam

The funeral is taking place in Drogheda of Donegal born Sister Ann Ward, a doctor in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology, who was one of the pioneers of specialist surgical techniques to repair the damage caused by prolonged obstructed labour.

She has received many international awards for her work, and has a hospital wing named after her in Nigeria in recognition of the many years she worked in the country with the Medical Missionaries of Mary.

Ann Ward was born in Lifford in April 1929, the daughter of Peter Ward represented who represented South Donegal in the first Dáil.

She joined the Medical Missionaries of Mary, and after religious formation, she studied medicine at University College, Dublin. Following post-graduate study at the Hammersmith Hospital in London, she became a Member of the Royal College of Obstetrics & Gynaecology and before long was granted a Fellowship.

Sister Ann served in south-east Nigeria from 1959 to 2006, and during her time there she pioneered surgical techniques for the repair of obstetric fistula, a development for which she was ivenn several awards.

Accepting an internation award in Copenhagen in 1987, she said her dream would be to see much greater recognition for women obstetricians. She said there are many women who can only confide their deepest and most sensitive feelings to another woman, who they feel will understand their emotions.

 

Full statement from the Medical Missionaries of Mary -

A native of Lifford, Co. Donegal, the death of Sister-doctor Ann Ward on May 28 leaves a great sense of loss among her professional colleagues in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology worldwide - as well as to her loving family and community , the Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMM). Sister Ann was among the pioneers of specialist surgical techniques to repair the damage caused by prolonged obstructed labour, for which she received many international awards.

Born on 8th April 1929, she was the youngest of three children. Her sister, Mary Elizabeth and brother, John, predeceased her. Their father, Peter Ward represented South Donegal in the first Dáil. She died at the nursing facility, Aras Mhuire, adjacent to the MMM Motherhouse, where she had been receiving care in recent years.

Ann received her primary education in Raphoe National School and the Dominican Convent in Cabra, Dublin. She completed secondary education at St. Louis Convent Monaghan. After religious formation she studied medicine at University College, Dublin. Following post-graduate study at the Hammersmith Hospital in London, she became a Member of the Royal College of Obstetrics & Gynaecology and before long was granted a Fellowship.

Gifted with an outstanding soprano voice, her colleagues loved nothing better than to listen to her singing ‘The hills of Donegal’. During her recent prolonged illness, one of her greatest joys was a personal visit from Daniel O’Donnell.

Sister Ann will be remembered most especially in south-east Nigeria where she served devotedly from 1959 to 2006 - when her own declining health forced her, very reluctantly, to retire to the Motherhouse of the Medical Missionaries of Mary at Drogheda.

She brought passionate zeal to her work. As her pioneering surgical techniques for the repair of obstetric fistula became known, she was frequently invited to address professional conferences or to give televised master classes in leading university hospitals. She trained many other surgeons to carry on the work that would relieve women – mostly young women, often teenagers – of the pain, disability and stigma caused by their terrible condition.

‘The arch-enemy of compassion is pity’, she would say. ‘Pity puts distance between you and the person you are pitying. Compassion puts the two of you on the same level, enabling you to work together to change the situation, or at least to make it more bearable.’

In 1987, at the 15th World Congress of the International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (FIGO) held in Copenhagen, she was honoured for her 'Outstanding Professional Work'.

In her acceptance speech, she repeated several times a heartfelt appeal. She said her dream would be to see much greater recognition for women obstetricians. 'There are many women who can only confide their deepest and most sensitive feelings to another woman, who they feel will understand their emotions',  she said.

 

The following year, Ann received the Distinguished Graduate's Award from UCD. UNICEF in Nigeria granted an award for her outstanding work in mother and child health. She was later awarded an honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

 

Back in Nigeria, at St. Luke’s Hospital, Anua, now under the administration of the State Government, a newly-built Unit was named the Dr. Ann Ward Gynaecology Block (pictured here) in memory of the many years Ann served at Anua before establishing the specialist unit for obstetric fistula repair at Itam.

 

In February 2016, the Irish Perinatal Society which held it annual meeting at Our Lady of Lourdes Hopital, Drogheda,inaugurated the Sister Ann Ward Medal in honour of her life-time achievements. The first recipient was Dr. Victor Mukonka from Zambia.

Sister Ann herself shunned the limelight. ‘Please don’t write about me’ she would protest. ‘The focus needs to be placed on the women who suffer and the services that need to be put in place to bring relief and proper treatment.’

She is survived by her sister-in-law, Mrs. Marion Ward, (Donegal), her nieces Ann Ward (Donegal), Marianne Robinson (Ashbourne) and Kathryn Ward (Wicklow) and nephews Peter and John Ward (Donegal), and Jim Hally (Tramore.

 

Her funeral Mass takes place at the Motherhouse of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, Beechgrove, Drogheda, on Monday, May 30 at 12 noon, and burial afterwards in the nearby parish cemetery of St. Peter’s.