Meet Akewak, a true medical miracle

AKEWAKAkewak is a medical miracle. Without a doubt. He was destined to have major medical problems and early death. More than once!

Akewak walked into our clinic at our JDC SPINE PROGRAM a few years ago at the age of 12, and said to us, in English “I need your help, I have a bad back.” “That’s what we’re here for,” Dr. Rick replied with a smile.

Akewak had a lumbar kyphosis – a congenital fusion of several bones in his lumbar spine. It’s quite rare, but we see it every year. On exam he also had unequal shoulder blades, he was born without a thumb, and he was born with an extra blood vessel in the heart which normally closes at birth, a PDA (patent ductus arteriosus). We diagnosed a condition called VACTERL syndrome. At the age of 5, he had heart surgery to close the PDA. After the surgery, he was still weaker than his friends, but played still attempted to play sports with them.

It all seemed to make sense. But when Dr. Rick carefully examined Akewak with a stethoscope, he thought that he heard a PDA. He said to his
assistant “I have no idea what I’m listening to – it sounds like a PDA, but that’s been closed.” Akewak was referred to the best echo doctor in Ethiopia. He returned with an astounding result: indeed, he had a huge PDA (13 mm), plus “inadvertent ligation of the left pulmonary artery.” When doctors went to cut the PDA, they cut the pulmonary artery instead! Akewak was living on 1 lung. He had potentially dangerously high blood pressure in his lungs. It might even be too late to operate! And what might be done? We could only speculate.

Akewak walked into our office thinking that his back was his main problem. Dr. Rick sat down with Akewak’s parents and explained that his main problem right now is his heart – botched surgery truly threatened his life. His father, a policeman, said “Doctor, we are Christians. We believe God will help.”

We contacted physicians all over the world on his behalf. Children’s Hospital of Colorado accepted him for free treatment. We brought him to Denver. After intensive testing, doctors found that he was operable. After great discussion, surgeons decided on a single surgery. They removed the PDA, and then, in a great surgical feat, constructed a new pulmonary artery out of the pericardium (outside lining of the heart). A separate team stabilized his spine. He lived with a wonderful host family. And attended the Jewish Dayschool. And he gave the first gift at a major fundraising event.

Akewak returned to Ethiopia to heal. But his spine deformity was greatly increasing. Later, he was sent to the FOCOS Hospital in Ghana. In a delicate 6.5 hour operation, Dr. Boachie completely removed 3 vertebrae (L1-L3) and instrumented T7-S1.

Akewak is now back in Ethiopia. His heart is healthy. His spine is straight. Now at the top of his high school class. Dr. Rick recently told Akewak “Often in life, people never get a second chance. God has given you two new chances. Do something great with your life.”

Akewak’s name means “Gift of God” in his Oromo language. “My life is amazing,” he replied, “I will become a doctor.”







A huge surprise for Jamie and Zvi, a great well for Gorgor village

Well in Ethiopia 2We recently had the visit of newlyweds Jamie and Zvi Kresch. Zvi, an international ophthalmologist, was in Ethiopia teaching and helping upgrade skills of local eye doctors. We asked if they might be able to help us by taking time to photograph some of our village projects.

Thus, one recent Friday, they found themselves in a pickup truck, pulling into the hot, dusty village of Gorgor, 25 miles from the Sudan border. The center of the village has a primary school with a tattered Ethiopian flag flying bravely, and many round tukuls/huts made of sticks and mud.

This village of 200 families, which had 1 well –  1 inadequate well, which goes dry,  where women wait for hours to fill water containers, and where fights break out over water.

Knowing that JDC has built over 200 functioning wells in Ethiopia, a friend named Moshe funded a new well here, in honor of their wedding. As they pulled into the village, they saw 2 wells – the old and the new, with a line of donkeys carrying gerry-cans of water, and both men and women pumping the water from the new well.

Noting their arrival, the villagers started making speeches, thanking them for the well. They were embarrassed – they were the photographers, not the builder and not the donor.

And then the sign came out announcing that this was actually a wedding gift, which they learned about  nearly a year after their marriage.

Jamie commented: “We thought we were doing a favor and going into the countryside, we were amazed to learn that we were actually visiting our most unique wedding gift.” Zvi used the opportunity to encourage all the kids to study hard and do well with their lives. And Moshe commented “This is a gift which keeps giving – a lot nicer than candlesticks or new dishes. Every day it’s helping keep hundreds of people alive.”


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