Late last year, I was asked to evaluate Yalew in Gondar, 500 miles Northwest of Addis Ababa. Yalew had a neck deformity causing paralysis – he could not walk, he could not lift his arms or feed himself, and he was getting progressively worse. His problem is called Os Odontoideum, a congenital problem of the 2nd neck bone (C2), separating it from the first bone (C1). His spinal cord was being pinched at the base of his skull. As a result, the nerves in the spinal cord which travel from the brain to the rest of the body, allowing us to quite literally do everything – move, feel, breath – were being
damaged. In Yalew’s case, he couldn’t stand up, walk,or even use his arms and hands to feed himself. 5 Ethiopian senior physicians signed an official document recommending that Yalew go abroad for surgery. I was then consulted.
A few weeks later, I learned that renowned Kansas neurosurgeon Dr. Sarah Woodrow, would be visiting Ethiopia. I emailed her details of 16 cases, including Yalew. She put Yalew on the top of her priority list, knowing that she might be able to help him regain function.
Yalew’s family wanted Dr. Woodrow to come to Gondar to operate. We explained that this was not possible – the Gondar hospital is not yet equipped for complex neurosurgery care. They managed to bring him to Addis Ababa in a minibus, and he was admitted to Black Lion Hospital, the hospital of Addis Ababa University.
In the operating room, Dr. Woodrow led a team of Ethiopian neurosurgeons which carefully removed the bone at the base of Yalew’s skull and the top of his spine, which was compressing his spinal cord. They then inserted a series of screws and rods in the base of the skull and top of the spine to, quite literally, keep his head on top of his neck. Bone was taken from his hip bone to graft onto his spine, in hopes that new bone would grow across the surgical site, providing a more permanent biological source of strength to keep his head in this position.
I visited Yalew on a recent trip to Gondar.
Yalew is feeding himself! Yalew can raise his arms! Yalew walked with me 200 meters to the main road when I left! He is so happy to not be an invalid.
Dr. Sarah Woodrow: thanks so much for your dedication, coming to Ethiopia every year, at your own expense, operating and teaching Ethiopians to expand their surgical skills.
An thank you DePuy Synthes! This could also not have been done without the help of DePuy Synthes Spine, which donates the equipment and implants so Dr. Woodrow can operate: without DePuy’s donation, Yalew would not be walking.
Yalew – keep walking, we wish you the best!
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