Munira – Courageous girl walks again

MuniraMunira is a 10 year old girl who was carried into our office on her mom’s back in July, 2013. The family of 5 lives in a mud house without water – they use a neighborhood latrine. She was newly paralyzed. We pieced together the story: she had TB of the spine which had not been treated, she fell off a chair, and her unstable spine damaged the spinal cord. She could not walk at all. On exam she was hyperreflexic, had + Babinsky response, but still had some feeling in her legs as well as some knee movement, but no toe movement. We immediately did CT scan, MRI, and started her on TB treatment. Her mom delivered her to the airport, piggy-back the following week. She flew to FOCOS Hospital in Accra.  At FOCOS Hospital, she had 10 weeks of traction, and then major surgery and lots of physical therapy. Now she is delighted to walk on her own, using a walker. She has the rest of this year to recover, then restart school. Her goal? To become a doctor! Congratulations Munira, we admire your courage. Story and photos presented with permission   Munira5 Munira2   Munira3 Munira4 Munira7 (1)

Learn more about our 24 spine patients in Ghana

Latest group in Ghana

For more details about the  latest group of patients that we have in Ghana for spine surgery, please click the link below:

Straightening Ethiopian Spines in Ghana – February 2014





24 patients depart for spine surgery in Ghana by Dr. Boachie’s FOCOS team


Early Wednesday morning, we met 24 patients in the airport, and successfully got them onto their flight to Accra, accompanied by our nurse. We also sent 20 kilos of dried Ethiopian injera to eat, as well as several hundred packets of PlumpyNut, a peanut-based nutritional supplement. Luckily, there’s a PlumpyNut factory here in Ethiopia.

This is a very diverse group – they range in age from 7 to 27; some have scoliosis (S-shaped spine), some have kyphosis (forward-bent spine) due to TB or congenital. We have all religions and many ethnicities. Tesfalem, from Axum, had a 2-day bus ride to get to Addis Ababa with his mom.

Several children need “growing rods” which will grow with them for years. One of the kids is wonderful 8 year old girl who is also a dwarf. A young woman and young man, an accountant and an artist respectively, are in their late 20s and walk with crutches due to having polio when they were young.

Many patients have huge challenges with multiple spine angles over 100 degrees. Some have lost over 70% of their lung volume – look at the photo of Sintayehu, compared with me, and consider the size of his lungs. Our belts are at the same level – we should be the same height. All the difference has come out of his chest.

Patients with severe deformities will have 4 holes drilled into their skulls then spend months in sitting, walking, and lying-down traction, 23 hours a day, as their spines slowly straighten before surgery. Stay tuned for more details.

Please consider donating to help them, as well as so many others here in our care.

We are now following about 1400 spine patients! Please keep them in your

Dr. Rick Hodes and the JDC-Ethiopia Spine Team

Photos and X-rays presented with permission.

Betelhem B pic

Betelhem B2

Betelhem B

Ababayehu pic


Ababayehu pic2



Foliyana pic


Foliyana back






Sint back Sint and me


Sint sp




Tesfalem (2)

Tesfahun T




Zinash 2


Zinash spine x-ray


Breaking News: 15 kids arrive back from Ghana tonight, straight and happy

It’s days like today that I feel like I’ve won the lottery!

We have had about 26 Ethiopians in Ghana for spine care for several months now. At this moment, 9 are in traction. Tonight, 15 patients returned to Ethiopia, 10 of whom had spent months in traction. One who had a particularly complicated course had been in Ghana for over 18 months! They were met by tearful families who were amazed to see the newfound health of their kids and relatives.

Take a look at their faces. In many cases, you can see small round circles about an inch over their eyes where the traction screws went in.

We are now working hard on our next group to send out in the coming weeks.

With happiness from Addis Ababa,

Dr. Rick and the JDC spine team


















14 Patients to India for Heart Surgery – Please read their stories!

We now have fourteen patients in India undergoing heart procedures by Dr. Krishna at the AIMS- Amrita Hospital in Cochin, India. We are not fully funded and would greatly appreciate contributions – from small gifts to full sponsorships of $5,000 per child.

Click here for detailed information about each patient.

Click here to donate. Donations are tax-deductible and contribute directly to JDC’s Heart and Spine Project.

Thank you!

Rick Hodes, MD and the JDC-Ethiopia Heart and Spine Team

(Contact Us:



A Year End Message from Mieraf, Gedion and Dr. Rick


MierafMy name is Mieraf, and I’m a 15 year old girl in Addis Ababa. 4 years ago, I first consulted Dr. Rick because I had a severe, progressive spine deformity. I prefer not to show photos, but try putting your hand inside your armpit and touching the top of your hip – when I visited Dr. Rick, my armpit and my hip were 3 fingers apart! I had lost 75% of my lung capacity and had difficulty breathing. I was often teased in school.

A doctor I consulted referred me to  the JDC Spine program. With funding from an award Dr. Rick won from the MountainFilm Festival in Telluride, Colorado,  I flew to Ghana in 2009. I went into traction, and then Dr. Boachie operated on me at the university hospital. My recovery was rough, but I made it. I later learned that my father was phoning Dr. Rick for updates 3 times a day!

The following year, I flew to Telluride to thank the film festival for their funding – I addressed a full auditorium of people, and received a standing ovation!

Now I’m in 8th  grade, I’m at the top of my class, and I am determined to be the first Ethiopian spine surgeon practicing inside Ethiopia.

I am grateful for all the medical care I’ve received, and for everyone who supports it.



GedionMy name is Gedion, and I am a 22 year old university student. I graduated from public high school in Addis Ababa, then studied accounting and finance at Gondar University. I graduated  3rd in my entire class.

My spine has been getting worse since I was 4 years old, and until recently, I had a huge right-sided curve. By chance, I ran into a JDC staff person in a hospital while getting an x-ray, and learned of the JDC spine program. I consulted Dr. Rick in 2011. He  diagnosed scoliosis, with a 158 degree angle!  I had lost 56% of my lung function.

I flew to the FOCOS Hospital in Ghana in late 2012. I was put into traction for 3 months, and then was operated on by Dr. Boachie. I had some left leg weakness after surgery, but it is getting better.

After surgery, I am much straighter. I breath easier. And soon I will continue studying for my MBA degree at Arba Minch University. My goal is to finish my PhD and then teach at a university.

I thank Dr. Rick and JDC and FOCOS so much for their care.

I wish you all HAPPY HOLIDAYS, and ask you to donate generously, so that so many other patients can be helped.


Dear friends and supporters:

As I write this, we have not finished 2013, but we have over 350 new spine patients this year, as well as over 160 new heart patients. We have 26 spine patients in Ghana for traction and surgery at this moment. This week, I’m preparing the next group to go to India for heart surgery.

We cannot do this without your support. As the year ends, please remember our patients. All gifts, small and large, are gratefully accepted, and are fully tax-deductible. Everything helps!

I wish everyone a wonderful holiday season and a superb 2014. Today I read a great quote about Christmas gifts, by Texas novelist Oren Arnold. Whatever holidays we celebrate, it is inspirational:


To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.”

With hope and gratitude,

Dr. Rick

Traction Ghana 5-2013

Success story: Meet Almaz, lucky girl

AlmazAlmaz first came to us in 2010 at age 12 from a small village north of Addis Ababa; her family lives in a mud hut a 1 hour walk from the main road.   I diagnosed congestive heart failure from rheumatic heart disease involving her mitral and aortic heart valves.

Life was very tough – Almaz was expected to tend to the home and their cows. She had been hospitalized several times. Her father sent her brothers to school, she was forced to stay home. On first meeting she was thin and weak.  Despite multiple medications, she was had shortness of breath,  and  leg swelling.

We followed her in our clinic. The trips to Addis Ababa were very difficult and expensive. One day after a clinic visit with us, her father asked her to wait on the street for a moment – he never returned. He simply abandoned her in this city of several million people. She was lost, very scared, and stood crying on the street. It was getting dark, and she was hungry.  As she tells the story, an angel appeared: A 50 year old woman  walked over, an illiterate woman, mother of 7. She asked what was the problem, and Almaz explained that she’d been abandoned. This woman named Yeshewa took her home, and in a flash, Almaz had a new home.

Living in the city with better food, she became better nourished and stronger and a good candidate for surgery. However, in order to have surgery, she needed legal permission. We were planning a trip to her village to find the dad, but to our surprise, he showed up a year later, looking for her. My nurse commented “I’m sure the wife sent him to find her.” “What would you do if your husband abandoned your kid on the street?” I asked. “Me?” she replied, “I’d kill him.”

The next day they met, not the warmest meeting but Almaz still has a bit of affection for him. He signed permission for surgery.

In 2012, we sent her to AIMS Amrita Hospital in Cochin, India with 11 other heart patients. Surgery was a success, she now has a new mitral valve. She is taking blood thinners. She comes to us monthly to get her “INR” tested, to regulate the dose of her blood thinner. With some assistance, she is now in a decent school. She loves it. She is now in 2nd grade, #1 in her class. A very serious student. Her new goal: to become a doctor, to help kids with heart disease.

We joke that she should be named “Addisalem” – “New World.” She has a new heart valve, new family, new school, new confidence, new health - and really a new life. It is our pleasure to help her transformation.

- Dr. Rick Hodes




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