Introducing Haftom, now smiling all the time!

1Introducing Haftom, a 20 year old orphan from Adigrat in Tigrai, Northern Ethiopia.

Haftom is the youngest of 3 children: his sister is an electrician, a brother drives a bulldozer. Haftom’s mother had died years ago, and his father, a soldier wounded in the conflict with Eritrea, died later. Haftom lived with his brother and sister, and took his studies very seriously – he was always at the top of his class. This was despite the loss of his parents, taunting from classmates, and difficulties at home.

He was desperate for care: he visited a traditional healer who scratched him and scarred him, without success. He went to holy water sites over 50 times, but his back continued to deform.

However,  5 years ago, his friend met one of our spine patients and told him to come see us. He took the bus to Addis Ababa for the first time in his life. He came to our waiting room, and was amazed to see many patients not so different from himself. For the first time in his life, he felt “at home.”

Haftom’s deformity was one of the worst we had seen, because it was really 3-dimensional, 2-D images cannot capture the extent of his deformity.  He followed up with us every year. FOCOS Hospital in Accra started using ambulatory traction, and finally our call came  – we needed him to leave for Ghana as soon as possible. He borrowed money and flew to Addis Ababa.

Upon arrival he was 5’3”, and weighed 92 pounds. His BMI was 11.6! He had lost 73% of his lung capacity. He had a 124 degree spinal angle from the front, and another 120 degrees on the side (laterally). His ATR was 30 degrees.

He was in traction in Ghana for 5.5 months. He was very afraid at the time of surgery. The patients started a nightly prayer group, and all prayed for him. He chose not to tell his family about his surgery – he did not want to worry them. But he promised God that he’d give a gift to his church if he survived.

In late January, he underwent a surgery of nearly 4 hours, in which he underwent fusion from T2-L3, Smith-Peterson osteotomies from T6-T11, concave rib osteotomies from T7-T11, thoracoplasty from T8-T10, and bone grafting. 4 rods and 16 screws were inserted.

Haftom is now living with a cousin in Addis Ababa. In September, after Ethiopian New Year, he’ll start 9th grade, aiming to become a mechanical engineer. For the first time in years, he can walk comfortably, breath easily, and has minimal pain.

“Without you, my future would be terrible, he told us with tears in his eyes, “now I have a real life, and a real future.”

– Dr. Rick Hodes

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