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