2015 Annual Report: Thank you for another an amazing year!

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 9.55.12 PM

Dear Friends and Supporters,

At year’s end, we’d like to report on our work, thank you, and ask for your continued support. We’ve had an amazingly busy and successful year!

Click here to download the full 2015 Annual Report.


Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 9.54.59 PM



Hearts: We have 154 new heart patients so far this year, and we’ve sent 2 groups to India for surgery.

Take a look at 2 year old Natnael. Nati caScreen Shot 2015-12-21 at 9.43.02 PMme to us with 2 problems: he was born with cataracts, making him blind from birth. Plus, he had a PDA (patent ductus arteriosus) shunting a lot of blood away from his heart. (The ductus normally closes at birth, but sometimes remains open, especially at high altitudes like ours, causing potential heart failure). Cataracts should be operated on within the first 2 months of life. But nobody would touch Nati’s eyes – due to heart issues. Hence, he remained blind and weak. His dedicated mom was 100% supportive, fed him, carried him, and kept him going. That’s when she came to us and we realized that we had a great opportunity to change Nati’s life.

Led by my assistant, Kaleab, Nati and his mom travelled to India with 13 patients in October. He underwent closure of his PDA, followed by cataract surgery a few days later. His eyes remained covered for a week, and then bandages were removed and he looked at his mom for the Gfirst time – and smiled! Mom reports that he is walking on his own, tracking objects, as he rewires brain circuits, learning to see for the first time. Now he has a chance to go forward in life.

Spines: We have 424 new spine patients so far this year. This is another record for us. We’ve sent 76 patients to Ghana for surgery. On arrival, at least half underwent months of traction, before corrective surgery.

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 9.42.09 PM

This has been a year filled with visitors.

  • Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 10.09.08 PMDr. Oheneba Boachie came to Ethiopia 3 times this year. He operated on 27 patients, adjusting growing rods and more.
  • Dr. Kamal Ibrahim, the most senior spine surgeon in Chicago, made 2 trips to Ethiopia. In October, he arrived with a team of 10 doctors and nurses, sponsored by the Nuvasive Corporation. They operated on 5 patients, and began training Ethiopian surgeons and nurses in spine surgery.
  • Dr. Ted Belanger, of Dallas, came to Ethiopia in May, and operated on 14 patients sponsored by Medtronic Corporation.
  • One boy, Asalefew, had some neurologic impairment after surgery. He pursued his physical therapy with such dedication that we now say that he’s lying – his name is no longer Asalefew, it’s Haile Gebre- Selassie, our great runner! Now Asalefew is walking up a storm.
  • Dr. Sarah Woodrow of Kansas was in Ethiopia, sponsored by DePuy Spines. She operated on 3 of our patients, including Yalew, a young man from Gondar who was virtually paralyzed. He could not walk and could lift his hands only 6 inches. Now he’s walking and feeding himself!
  • Texas: Recently Rick was in Texas to speak in several venues, arranged by friends Kathy and John Ward. At the same time, Rick’s son Dejene arrived with 2 spine patients. Dejene, who first traveled to Texas as a young orphan in 2002 for his own TB spine surgery, brought new patients and translated for them. Dr. Ted Belanger operated on them at Medical Center of Plano with great success.
  • Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 10.13.52 PMHaymanot came from the countryside and was living in a church in Addis Ababa, when Rick admitted him to Mother Teresa’s Mission for nutritional support. He had progressive ankylosing spondylitis, bent over at a 90o angle, supporting himself with a stick as he walked. When the Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 10.13.47 PMpossibility of getting surgery in America came up, we started 2 programs: education and nutrition. He went to school to study English every day. And we gave him Plumpy-Nut, a calorie-dense peanut supplement, which cost about 1 dollar- a-day, providing an extra 1000 calories. Haymanot added 20 pounds and felt stronger than ever. After 14 hours of surgery, involving multiple Smith-Petersen osteotomies, he stands really straight. He is now in physical therapy in Dallas. He wants to return home for Ethiopian Christmas, January 7th.


Gary Segal is our Canadian friend and supporter who organized the Bring Back Hope Dinner in 2012. Moreover, Gary sponsored a patient named Tesfaye for complicated spine surgery in Vancouver, and welcomed Tesfaye into his home for 6 months. Gary returned to Ethiopia and again traveled with Tesfaye to his Agaw village in rural Gojjam.

The JDC Board visited, and reviewed our work.

Our supporters The Max and Marian Farash Foundation of Rochester, NY visited our work for the first time.

Ambassador Susan Jacobs, President Obama’s Special Emissary for Children, visited our clinic at Yekatit 12 Hospital and met many of our patients.

Rick received an honorary doctorate in science, DSc, from Kenyon College in Ohio at their commencement in May. It is his fifth honorary doctorate.


Henry Schein, Inc continues to donate INR testing supplies to us so that we can do free followup on heart patients taking blood thinners. Most are quite poor, and this is a huge help in providing them quality cardiac care.

Scoliosis Research Society (SRS) donated hundreds of backpacks for our patients.


We are moving forward to make our work more sustainable. We have 2 Ethiopian surgeons – 1 orthopedic and 1 neurosurgeon, who want to become spine surgeons. Dr. Eskinder volunteers with us every week, and both were in the operating room with our visiting teams. We look forward to the time in a few years when they will be able to do our easier cases without assistance.

Ethiopia has suffered from lack of rain in some regions, and is suffering from a food shortfall. In the words of the Ethiopian government: “the country now faces deepening food insecurity and soaring malnutrition rates, especially among children and mothers.” Working closely with Ethiopian authorities, JDC is planning an immediate response to supply supplementary food for the majority of affected people in 1 region of Gondar province, targeting food assistance to 5,400 children and mothers. This will be followed by the digging of 5 wells to provide clean water.


Margarita Manduley, a prominent attorney in Los Angeles, will host a fund-raising event with her husband at their La Loggia Restaurant on Sunday, March 20, 2016. Margarita has been to Ghana several times as well as Ethiopia and seen first-hand the work we do.

Rick will be commencement speaker at University of Rochester Medical School in May, 2016.


Zemene, a film about our patient, an orphan from Gondar with spine disease, has shown at over a dozen film festivals, and won 8 awards, including Best Documentary (Boston) and Best of the Festival (Ohio). Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone, called it “Just brilliant.” It is now available for purchase online: www.zemenefilm.com/shop.



Middlebury Magazine recently did a major profile on Rick.

Author Wyatt Orme spent 10 days at Rick’s side, exploring his work from every angle.

Rick wrote a guest blog of our TB spine patient Mubarak for Abraham Verghese’s Stanford 25 Website.


Undoubtedly, we will continue to get a large number of patients, as word spreads of our work. We will continue working with our partners Dr. Boachie, Dr. Kamal, Dr Ted, and Dr. Sarah, training Ethiopian physicians. We need to handle the large amount of data we collect in a more programmed manner. Our goal is to have a fully functioning spine centre. We aim to keep the cardiac program at the same level.

Gary Segal brought 2 spine surgeons from Vancouver to analyse our work. They calculated that there are perhaps 50,000 Ethiopians with spinal deformities. Having done over 500 surgeries, we are only 1% done! Plus, with 3 million births per year, more babies will be born with congenital defects.

It’s humbling to think that we have come from nothing to performing well-over 500 spine surgeries – and still have tens of thousands needing our immediate help. Three weeks ago, we sent 23 “super-urgent” patients to Ghana for traction and surgery. Despite this, we have hundreds waiting for surgery, including 44 newly classified as “1+,” our most urgent cases.

Whatever holidays you celebrate, we hope they are filled with warmth and love and health and good hope.

With your help – and with the Almighty’s – we can move forward. Many thanks for your support!

Dr. Rick and the JDC-Ethiopia spine and heart team


Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 10.28.26 PM.png

Photos and stories taken with permission.

Two amazing kids get life-saving spine surgery

Haymanot and Samrawit, 2 Ethiopians ​now​ in Dallas​,​ Texas, have been rebuilt!

And what a difference! Samrawit, a 12 year old, 6th grade student at the top of her class,​ hails​ from a rural area outside Addis Ababa​. She​ has progressive scoliosis. In the past year, her spine deteriorated from a 60 degree angle to an 89 degree deformity – take a look at her recent scan (below).

Click to watch a video of Haymanot, Samrawit, and Dr. Hodes on the news.

Samrawit was accepted for free surgery by Dr. Theodore Belanger of​ ​Texas Back Institute in Dallas, at Medical Center of Plano​ which provided free hospital care​. ​Samrawit underwent successful surgery a few days ago. She is now very straight, with 2 rods and 25 screws, donated by Medtronic. She is nearly 4 inches taller. Samrawit wants to return to Ethiopia as soon as she can – to become an astronomer!

Former spine patient ​Dejene Hodes brought ​Samrawit​ to Dallas​, a​long with​ Haymanot, age 20, from rural Gojjam. ​ Dr. Rick first met Haymanot when he appeared at a Catholic mission, appealing for food and assistance. He had a very severe deformity – a huge hunchback (kyphosis)​​​ caused by anklyosing spondylitis. Haymanot walked slowly, stooped over, supported by a stick. He was very malnourished, weighing less than 90 pounds.

Recently we started a nutritional support program, giving Haymanot 1,000 extra calories a day in PlumpyNut nutritional supplement, and sent him to school to study English. Haymanot ​gained 12 pounds, and ​excelled in school. He ​regained strength​. Two weeks ago, ​they​ boarded Ethiopian Airlines​, and headed to America​. Scans done in Dallas confirmed his diagnosis, but opened the possibility of simpler surgery involving multiple cuts in his backbones (osteotomies), rather than removal of a large chunk of bone. This is simpler surgery, with less blood loss and lower complication rate. Recently ​Dr. Belanger operated for a full​ day​. ​Hours later, Haymanot​ was very straight​, with a back straightened by rods and over 20 screws. Now​,​​ overjoyed about the success of his surgery​,​​ he wants to run a marathon​!​

It’s very, very difficult to get free spine surgery in the USA. Working together with the amazing Dr. Belanger, Medtronic, and Medical Center of Plano, we have been able to completely change the ​lives​ of these 2​ brave​ kids. The Ethiopian community in Dallas has been visiting​,​ bringing Ethiopian food every day. Thank you, thank you to all who have helped these youths!

– Dr. Rick Hodes

Sp Haymanot Asmare 6-2011 - 7-2011 37


IMG_5186 IMG_5182 IMG_5021 IMG_4947 FullSizeRender-3 FullSizeRender-2 DSC05972 DSC05964 DSC00304

Meet 13 amazing kids getting heart surgery in India

We have 13 kids in India right now for cardiac care. Many could be treated by procedure, and did not need open surgery. For Tofik, age 18 we hoped he could have ballooning of his dangerously narrowed mitral valve, but he was found to have an atrium filled with blood clot, despite a year on blood-thinners. He had surgery and is recovering well. Several others had aberrant blood vessels, known as PDAs (patent ductus arteriosus) closes, or holes in the heart closed.

Kids 3We have a 2 year old boy, blind with bilateral cataracts, have his dutus closed and is getting eye surgery. By the end of 2 weeks, he will walk with energy and see of the first time in his life. His mom is with him to help him through the process.

And we are doing more than hearts. Bilal, an 18 year old with a complicated problem in his cervical spine. He has Chiari malformation of the brain, and a deformity of the lower brainstem, upper medulla, and lower pons. I consulted the eminent expert on this, Professor Arnold Menezes of University of Iowa, who advised us on the approach. In India, he underwent posterior decompression of C1 and C2 and instrumentation with 2 rods and 4 screws. He is now out of bed and going in the right direction.

UPDATE: 10 of these kids returning from heart surgery in India tomorrow!

NOTE: Rick will be in New York on Oct 18-20, and then in Dallas from Oct 20-25. He will speak at the Rotary Club of Dallas on Wed, Oct 21 and the DFW World Affairs Council on Oct 22.


Dr. Rick Hodes

IMG_4144 IMG_4169 IMG_4174 IMG_4324 KIDS KIDS2

Mid-Year Update On Our Life-Saving Work In Ethiopia

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 1.27.46 AM

Dear Friends and Supporters,

We aim to straighten the backs, and fix the hearts of Ethiopian youth. At mid-year, we want to give you an update, thank you, and ask for your help.

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 1.28.59 AM

Helping More Patients Every Year!

  • 2006: 20 new spine patients, 11 spine surgeries
  • 2014: ~400 new spine patients, over 75 spine surgeries
  • 2015 (1st half): 271 new spine patients, 100 spine surgeries, 12 heart surgeries and procedures
  • Total to date: over 510 spine surgeries completed in Ghana, Ethiopia, India, and America since 2006. Over 50 children with adjustable “growing-rods” to help them grow and maintain straight backs. About 2,000 spine patients in our program.

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 1.10.25 AM

Morale is very high in our program. We are filled with patients who volunteer in our clinic after their surgery, and have had four patients return to Ghana as staff:

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 1.11.05 AM

We’ve had ~428 Ethiopians operated in Ghana through June, 2015. If this was done in the USA, it would cost $85 million dollars! Our cost in Ghana is significantly less than 10% of that.

We have supplied at least half of the patients in the international FOX Study, looking at outcomes of the most extreme patients in the world, with spinal deformities of over 100 degrees. Knowledge gained from these extreme patients will benefit spine patients across the planet.

Dr. Boachie has been to Addis Ababa twice this year, and evaluated over 200 patients with us, then did a dozen surgeries on kids with “growing rods.” The North American registry has about 400 kids with “growing rods,” we in Ethiopia have about 50! He will return for another round of evaluations and surgery in November. And while we have plans and priority lists, emergencies arise. 14-year old Eyob Wondwossen with neuromuscular scoliosis was seen by Dr. Boachie and Dr. Wolf, his anesthesiologist and given our highest priority to save his life. He left for Ghana with his mom as caregiver, in May. 

We aim to send 100 spine patients to Ghana in 2015. A spine surgery costs $18-$22,500 in Ghana. We need to raise $2 million. We are their only hope.

Take a look at some of our patients:

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 1.12.24 AMScreen Shot 2015-09-23 at 1.12.29 AMScreen Shot 2015-09-23 at 1.12.39 AMScreen Shot 2015-09-23 at 1.12.44 AM

Our ultimate goal is to have a spine center in Addis Ababa to evaluate patients and perform basic surgery.

In the heart realm, we’ve gotten 100 new patients this year. We sent 13 patients to India for cardiac surgery and procedures this year, and we’re planning a group in the coming months. We’re also treating 2 boys for bone cancer right now.

Changes in visa rules have caused us to lose our foreign volunteers. Instead, we are hiring local staff. A new Ethiopian orthopaedic resident has joined us, and intends to enter training in spine surgery.  On a typical clinic day we also have 4 or 5 former patients who show up to volunteer:

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 1.13.35 AM

We have upgraded our computer systems, and are establishing a cloud-based digital medical records system, probably the only one in Ethiopia.

We are in close contact with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, and may move our headquarters to a new hospital in Addis Ababa in the coming months.

Noted spine surgeon Prof. Kamal Ibrahim will be making his first trip to us in September to discuss long-term collaboration.

We’d like to publicly thank our partners:

  • Dr. Oheneba Boachie
  • Adjei and FOCOS hospital, Ghana
  • University of Rochester Pathology Department
  • AIMS Amrita Hospital, Cochin, India
  • University of British Columbia
  • Canada Gondar University, Ethiopia
  • Share Tsedek Hospital, Jerusalem
  • Dr. Dan Fink of Shaare Zedek Medical Center
  • Dr Ted Belanger of Texas Back in Dallas
  • Long Island Spine Specialists has done a free surgery for us

Wish you all a great summer, and hope you can visit us here !

Please support us as generously as you can. And forward this to all your friends and family.

– Dr. Rick Hodes and the JDC-Ethiopia spine and heart team

Donation through our website link to the JDC donations site, and is fully tax- deductible. 100% goes to our project in Ethiopia. Contact us with questions about mailing checks: ethiopianspines@gmail.com

Melika is walking, and happy and strong!

DSC_0135 Born and raised in Harar, Ethiopia (over 300 miles east of Addis Ababa), Melika was discovered to have a serious heart condition when she was six months old. Her doctors did not at first understand the severity of her problem. When she was 5 years old, she was already suffering from exhaustion. Her doctors told her she would get better with time. Though Melika was a good student and enjoyed learning, her condition made it difficult even to climb the steps into her classroom and to keep up with the other children at school. Sometimes she would cough up blood.

We now know that Melika suffered from a condition called Tetrology of Fallot. This is a congenital heart defect, causing blood without oxygen to circulate through the body. Commonly called “blue baby syndrome,” the only effective treatment is early surgical intervention. Without this repair, prognosis is poor and fatality can occur from heart failure. Survival into adulthood is not likely.

Melika searched for surgery unsuccessfully — for 18 years! Her aunt, a patient at a hospital in Addis Ababa, had heard of the work we do and referred Melika to our clinic. Fortunate to have already lived so long, it was important to act fast. We sent Melika for surgery in our India heart group earlier this year.

To prepare, she taught herself Hindi by watching Bollywood movies. Her medical team was shocked by her ability to communicate! She actually helped translate between Hindi and Amharic for our other patients. Melika was very scared to have surgery, but knew it was necessary. Now that she is back home in Harar, her life is completely changed. She can not only climb stairs with ease, but she can run and play sports with her friends. More importantly, she no longer is at risk of heart failure, and will likely live a long and normal life. She even fasted on Ramadan for the first time.

Melika is an enthusiastic biology student and hopes to become a doctor. To our donors, she says, “For the first time I can walk and be normal. Thank you so much! You gave me my life back!”


Thank you Dr. Sarah Woodrow, Thank you DePuy Spines, Yalew is now walking!

DSC01631Why is Yalew standing in the road in Gondar? Because now he can!

Late last year, I was asked to evaluate Yalew in Gondar, 500 miles Northwest of Addis Ababa. Yalew had a neck deformity causing paralysis – he could not walk, he could not lift his arms or feed himself, and he was getting progressively worse. His problem is called Os Odontoideum, a congenital problem of the 2nd neck bone (C2), separating it from the first bone (C1). His spinal cord was being pinched at the base of his skull. As a result, the nerves in the spinal cord which travel from the brain to the rest of the body, allowing us to quite literally do everything – move, feel, breath – were being
damaged. In Yalew’s case​,​ he couldn’t stand up, walk,or even use his arms and hands to feed himself. ​5 Ethiopian senior physicians signed an official document recommending that Yalew go abroad for surgery. I was then consulted. ​

A few weeks later, I learned that renowned Kansas neurosurgeon Dr. Sarah Woodrow, would be visiting Ethiopia. I emailed her details of 16 cases, including Yalew. She put Yalew on the top of her priority list, knowing that she might be able to help him regain function.

Yalew’s family wanted Dr. Woodrow to come to Gondar to operate. We explained that this was not possible – the Gondar hospital is not yet equipped for complex neurosurgery care. They managed to bring him to Addis Ababa in a minibus, and he was admitted to Black Lion Hospital, the hospital of Addis Ababa University.

In the operating room, Dr. Woodrow led a team of Ethiopian neurosurgeons which carefully removed the bone at the base of Yalew’s skull and the top of his spine, which was compressing his spinal cord. They then inserted a series of screws and rods in the base of the skull and top of the spine to, quite literally, keep his head on top of his neck. Bone was taken from his hip bone to graft onto his spine, in hopes that new bone would grow across the surgical site, providing a more permanent biological source of strength to keep his head in this position.

I visited Yalew on a recent trip to Gondar.

Yalew is feeding himself! Yalew can raise his arms! Yalew walked with me 200 meters to the main road when I left! He is so happy to not be an invalid.

Dr. Sarah Woodrow: thanks so much for your dedication, coming to Ethiopia every year, at your own expense, operating and teaching Ethiopians to expand their surgical skills.

An thank you DePuy Synthes! This could also not have been done without the help of DePuy Synthes Spine, which donates the equipment and implants so Dr. Woodrow can operate: without DePuy’s donation, Yalew would not be walking.

Yalew – keep walking, we wish you the best!



Yalew Adgeh 10

Yalew Adgeh 24

DSC01683 DSC01681


Meet Yosef: Once Paralyzed, Now Walking!

DSC09536With great pleasure, we’d like to introduce Yosef, who was paralyzed when he came to us, and now he’s walking!

Yosef came to me in December with a very recent history: he could not stand for 6 weeks, Previously he had no problems controlling his body, his mom told me he could no longer control his urine. In careful testing, I found that he had decreased feeling from the waist down. He had hyperactive knee jerks, and his feet shook uncontrollably (sustained clonus). You can see him slumped in the chair.

I quickly suspected a spinal cord tumor. A quick MRI confirmed this:  “Intra-dural, extra-medullary cystic mass displacing the spinal cord posteriorly at T5-T7 level.” Note the black golf ball-like mass compressing his spinal cord.

We immediately recognized that this is a medical emergency – good medical care and a bit of luck could save this boy from permanent paralysis. We flew him and his mom to the FOCOS Hospital in Accra, Ghana. Caring for a paralyzed 6 year old is a full-time job, and nobody can do that with more dedication than his mom.

Early this year, he had surgery by Dr. Boachie and Akoto. They found that he had a 1.5 cm arachnoid cyst. They did a T4-5 laminectomy, and the cyst removed. Yosef had screws and rods put in. Since then he had intensive physical therapy, and steady improvement. When he flew back recently, he could not stop showing off walking with his walker, from one side of the airport to the other.

Yosef – keep moving!

DSC09219 IMG_20150404_092427 SP Yosef Wondimu 14-353 2


SP Yosef Wondimu 14-353 27 DSC_0342


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 103 other followers