Almaz 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