Welcome to the House of Spine

Dr. Rick flew to Ghana last week, accompanied by 20 spine patients, ranging in age from 3 to over 20. We have great things happening these days – Befekadu, located via Facebook, has had successful surgery and is now on-the-mend. Mesai, who had slept in a taxi at night while he was homeless, is doing well in traction.

Ambassador Gifti Abasiya, Ethiopian Ambassador to Ghana, visited our project and, speaking both Amharic and Oromifa, spent several hours with our patients. She encouraging them to get through their medical treatment with courage, to study hard, and to build their lives and build Ethiopia. Ambassador Gifti pointed out that she estimates there are 50 Ethiopians in Ghana. That’s not counting our 60 patients. By these counts, the MAJORITY of Ethiopians in Ghana are our spine patients!

Ambassador Sharon Bar-Li, of Israel, was delighted to see this project uniting Americans, and Ethiopians, and people of all faiths with the goal of healing Ethiopian youths with spinal deformities.

The patients met us with poems in English and Amharic, and a wonderful sign welcoming us to the “House of Spain.” They meant Spine – we loved this gesture.







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A year-end message for our supporters

Dear Friends and Supporters

Anaf and Abigail

New Spine Patients Graph

Total to date Morale is so high in our program, many former spine patients volunteer with us to help others.

We’ve had 352 Ethiopians operated on in Ghana through July, 2014. If this was done in the USA, it would cost $50 million dollars! Our cost in Ghana is significantly less than 10% of that.

We have a large volume of patients, with very severe deformities. Noted spine surgeon Professor Rajasekaran commented to me “You have the largest collection of the worst spines in the world.” Dr. Boachie said “Rick, I’ve never seen spines like in Ethiopia.”

Recently, Dr. Boachie visited us for 2 weeks. We analysed over 400 patients, some before surgery, and some after. We have hundreds of patients with angles over 100 degrees. And some with angles over 200 degrees! We have identified new deformities, which have never been reported – we call them saxophone spines, gamma-spines, and translocated spines.

We have a priority list: 68 patients have our highest priority, needing traction and surgery in the coming months. Another 48 have a slightly lower priority. Another 52 we hope to operate on in about a year. We have hundreds of patients needing surgery, to maintain their health.

Kids in traction

And while we have plans and priority lists, emergencies arise. Five year old Yosef Wondimu came in on December 2nd . He was carried in – his dad told us he is newly paralyzed –he could not walk for 6 weeks. Urgent MRI of the spine showed a spinal cord tumor in the middle of his spine, severely compressing his spinal cord. It appears to be benign. We are sending him to Ghana for urgent surgery by a neurosurgeon at FOCOS. Caring for a paralyzed boy is a full-time job, so we’re sending his mom with him. After surgery and rehabilitation, we hope Yosef will walk again.

Yosef Wondimu

We aim to send 100 spine patients to Ghana in 2015. A spine surgery costs $18-$20,000 in Ghana.
We need to raise $2 million. We are their only hope.

Spine patients in Ghana

Last week 15 spine patients showed up unexpectedly in clinic to give an Ethiopian shirt to Rick. Take a look at what they wrote:

A letter to Rick

And look at some of our patients:

Impressive patient stories

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 over 125 new patients this year. We sent 2 groups of 13 patients to India for cardiac surgery and procedures this year, and have funding to send another group shortly. And we’re treating 2 boys for bone cancer right now.

Where is your money going

Sisay before surgery

Sisay in Traction

Sisay after surgery

Zinash before and after

Whatever holidays you celebrate, we wish joy, health, happiness, and peace, and a great 2015 to you all.

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

Dr. Rick Hodes and the JDC-Ethiopian spine and heart team.

Donation through the website links 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

Profile in courage: Messay

SP Mesay Habtamu 14- 7We all love meeting some of the most courageous young people on the planet. Look at  Messai, a 16 year old.

Messay is from Fiche, about 4 hours from Addis Ababa. His parents died when he was 4 years old. Neighbors took him in. They were farmers with 8 children. They permitted him to go to school. But they treated him like a servant. They fed him worse food than their own kids. The kids did not treat him like a brother. But he was alive, and he was surviving. However, at age 10, he developed shaking chills, followed by severe back pain. His spine began deforming. He was not treated.

His host family later told him that they did not want him in school – he had to work full-time attending to their animals. Determined to be educated, a few years ago he moved to the town of Fiche – a 3 ½ hour walk, followed by a 90 minute car ride from his village. Messay’s friend from his village had moved there, living alone in a rented room and attend 9th grade. It is not uncommon for dedicated Ethiopian students to leave home at an early age like this in order to get educated.

In Fiche, he met a shoe shine boy and rented his box for 5 birr/day (25 cents US) when it was not being used. He could make 50 birr ($2.50) on a good day. His diet depended on his success at shoe shining.

But his spine continued to deform, and Messay decided to come to Addis Ababa to seek medical care. He had saved 300 birr ($15). Using his savings, he got on a bus heading to the capital. He got off the bus when it stopped in Akaki outside Addis Ababa.

He met someone with a pickup truck and slept inside the truck his first night. The following day, he met a taxi driver and helped him wash the taxi. As they were washing, Messay told him about his life. He slept inside the taxi for a while.

Eventually, the taxi driver invited him to share his house with him – Messai paid 200 birr a month ($10) to sleep on an empty sack a dirt floor. He returned to his occupation of shining shoes again, often making over $1 per day. (UNICEF data shows that 31% of Ethiopians live on less than the international poverty line,  $1.25 daily).

Messay registered to start school school – 6th grade. After school started, the school director met the students and asked if anyone had special problems. Mesay pointed out that he had no family, no place to live, and no notebooks. A local woman, a recent widow, heard about him and took him into her home. She felt that if she took an orphan into her home, it would somehow benefit her late husband’s soul. She purchased clothes for him. His teachers uniformly admired his courage. The brother of his teacher was designated legal guardian.

Messay went to a local health center, seeking care for his deforming spine. He was referred to the university hospital and sent to CURE Hospital, a Christian orthopedic facility, which referred him to our clinic.

We evaluated him and immediately started TB treatment. We  funded his travel for every visit to us.

We determined that ithout surgery, he had a very high risk of paralysis: In our evaluation system, he was rated “1+”, our most urgent designation for spine care.

Recently we drove him to the airport early one morning and he got on the plane – by himself –  to fly to FOCOS Hospital in Accra. We asked him how he felt: “Now I realize I am not alone and for the first time, I have hope that I can be healed and have a future.”

Messay will spend months in traction before surgery. Messay’s goal after surgery: to become a doctor. We’d love to see this happen.

SP Mesay Habtamu 14- 54 SP Mesay Habtamu 14- 72 SP Mesay Habtamu 14- 123 SP Mesay Habtamu 14- 131 SP Mesay Habtamu 14- 165

Hanan – now smiling!

Hanan is a 13 year-old orphan from Kibre Mengist in the north Oromia, 280 miles from Addis Ababa. She and her two younger sisters live with their 24 year-old unmarried uncle, ShewaAli, a construction worker. Their father died repelling the Eritrean invasion 11 years ago, and their mom died of tuberculosis 4 years ago.

Her uncle and guardian was also an orphan by age 11, raised by his grandmother. He worked as a laborer every day after school to support his family. He is now the devoted guardian of Hanan and her siblings. He told us: “I believe in God. I can’t abandon my sister’s children.”

Hanan finished 3rd grade at the top of her class; she loved school, playing jump rope, and Akukulu (Ethiopian hide-and-seek) with her sisters. Two years ago, however, everything changed: she became increasingly fatigued and stopped going to school, unable to make the 20-minute walk. She stopped observing the Moslem fast of Ramadan because of her weakness. Her personality changed – she was happy before, but after, she stopped smiling and angered easily. Doctors at the university hospital recommended surgery, but were unable to help. Someone referred her to us, and Dr. Rick diagnosed tight mitral stenosis (an area of .6 cm2 – normal is 4 cm2).

This September, we sent Hanan along with a group of 17 cardiac patients to Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences in Cochin, India, where the cardiac team performed a successful balloon procedure to open her valve. Her valve area has more than doubled. She is filled with energy. She is now back home. She has a big smile on her face, and told us: “I feel great!” Hanan is excited to go back to school to pursue her dream of becoming a cardiologist.

Hanan-before surgery

Before surgery

Hanan now smiling

After surgery

Hanan and uncle

Hanan with her uncle

Repairing Ethiopian Hearts in India

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We now have seventeen 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. Detailed information is  available on each patient.

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: ethiopianhearts@gmail.com.)


Look at Tulu – before and after surgery

Tulu was in traction for 3 months in Ghana, then had surgery. Look at the
difference, compared with his dad now. And he feels great!

SP Tulu Beicha 12-2012 - 7-2013 7 SP Tulu Beicha 12-2012 - 7-2013 9 SP Tulu Beicha 12-2012 - 7-2013 33 SP Tulu Beicha 12-2012 - 7-2013 35 SP Tulu Beicha 12-2012 - 7-2013 36 SP Tulu Beicha 12-2012 - 7-2013 80 (1) SP Tulu Beicha 12-2012 - 7-2013 102 (1) SP Tulu Beicha 12-2012 - 7-2013 107 SP Tulu Beicha 12-2012 - 7-2013 108 SP Tulu Beicha 12-2012 - 7-2013 112 SP Tulu Beicha 12-2012 - 7-2013 116


A New Life for Bizuayehu

Bizuayehu (“I see a lot”) is a remarkable and courageous 23 year old woman from Mojo, about an hour outside of Addis Ababa. Her mother noticed that her spine was deforming when she was a baby. She took her to 2 hospitals, without any help.

As her spine deformed, in school she was shunned by other kids, and called hunchback (“gobata,”) a terrible insult. Her parents died when she was 14, and her sisters also gave her very little support. Despite this, she was able to graduate from high school and study computers for 3 years. Unable to find work, she lived in a mud hut, read a lot, and found inspiration in her Christian faith.

About a year ago, when her sister left to work in Dubai, Bizuayehu took a bus to Addis Ababa seeking help. A kind person offered her support and a place to live, and she was evaluated in our spine program.

We found a very complex deformity – her spine had a U-turn and an angle of over 150 degees. Moreover, her spinal cord was pierced by a piece of bone: technically, her MRI found scoliosis plus diastematomyelia, lipoma, and tethered spinal cord.

She travelled to Ghana in late 2013. She was put into traction for several months: Dr. Rick visited and took these photos. Later in Ghana, she underwent surgery which involved fusing from the 5th thoracic vertebra (T5) to the pelvis, as well as complete removal of her first lumbar vertebra (L1). She had 5 rods and 18 screws put into her spine. She had a slow recovery, complicated by temporary weakness in her left leg.

She will now return home, look for work, and try her best to make friends, find a job, and rebuild her life. Bizuayehu, we salute your courage!














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