“Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” Martin Luther King
What do these 4 patients have in common? Months ago, none of them could walk! And most were incontinent. Melkamu, on the far left, had a spinal cord tumor for 5 years. Berhanu, wearing the striped shirt, had fallen from a building site where he was doing constuction work, and fractured a vertebra. He spent over a year on his back. Alazar and Tesfaw had severe spine disease which had affected their spinal cord. The first 2 underwent surgery in Addis Ababa by neurosurgeon Dr. Kee Park of New Jersey.
The other 2 were sent to Ghana in wheelchairs – in fact Tesfaw’s family is seen here carrying him in the airport in Addis Ababa. They were part of the group of 13 kids in traction in Ghana, then underwent surgery in Ghana. Last week, when 11 patients flew home from Ghana, it was a tremendous pleasure to see them walking, with canes, on their own steam out of the airport. Their families cried and kissed us repeatedly. The group happily lined up for airport photos, Merima took out her reading award to show the world.
Listen to 8 year old Tesfau’s story: he grew up in Mirabeti, 120 miles from Addis Ababa. His home was a 12 hour donkey ride from the main road! After a minor injury, his neck, weakened by a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis, deteriorated, and he was soon paralyzed. Several months on his back in the university hospital were completely non-helpful. Traditional healers could not help, another hospital also could not help. When Dr. Boachie met Tesfau late last year on his visit to Ethiopia, he advised that the only thing which could save him was traction then surgery in Ghana. His mom carried him to the airport and he joined the group. After months of traction, he underwent two surgeries.
“How do you feel?” we asked. “Take me anywhere,” he replied with a smile, “I just want to walk.” His new goal: to become an Ethiopian Orthodox priest.
And Alazar? He is a 14 year old from Addis Ababa who had been paralyzed for 6 months. A man in church told him to find our spine clinic. We sent him off in late 2012. After traction and surgery, he started moving his toes for the first time in months.. He will restart 8th grade in September. His goal: “to become a heart surgeon; my best friend has a bad heart.”
“What advice do you have for other kids like you?” we asked. “Don’t be scared of surgery,” he said – “you have to believe you can walk.”
We can’t sit back and think our work is done: just last week another newly paralyzed girl flew off to Ghana to start the process of traction before surgery.
– Dr. Rick Hodes
photos and stories used with permission