2015 Annual Report: Thank you for another an amazing year!

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Dear Friends and Supporters,

At year’s end, we’d like to report on our work, thank you, and ask for your continued support. We’ve had an amazingly busy and successful year!

Click here to download the full 2015 Annual Report.


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Hearts: We have 154 new heart patients so far this year, and we’ve sent 2 groups to India for surgery.

Take a look at 2 year old Natnael. Nati caScreen Shot 2015-12-21 at 9.43.02 PMme to us with 2 problems: he was born with cataracts, making him blind from birth. Plus, he had a PDA (patent ductus arteriosus) shunting a lot of blood away from his heart. (The ductus normally closes at birth, but sometimes remains open, especially at high altitudes like ours, causing potential heart failure). Cataracts should be operated on within the first 2 months of life. But nobody would touch Nati’s eyes – due to heart issues. Hence, he remained blind and weak. His dedicated mom was 100% supportive, fed him, carried him, and kept him going. That’s when she came to us and we realized that we had a great opportunity to change Nati’s life.

Led by my assistant, Kaleab, Nati and his mom travelled to India with 13 patients in October. He underwent closure of his PDA, followed by cataract surgery a few days later. His eyes remained covered for a week, and then bandages were removed and he looked at his mom for the Gfirst time – and smiled! Mom reports that he is walking on his own, tracking objects, as he rewires brain circuits, learning to see for the first time. Now he has a chance to go forward in life.

Spines: We have 424 new spine patients so far this year. This is another record for us. We’ve sent 76 patients to Ghana for surgery. On arrival, at least half underwent months of traction, before corrective surgery.

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This has been a year filled with visitors.

  • Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 10.09.08 PMDr. Oheneba Boachie came to Ethiopia 3 times this year. He operated on 27 patients, adjusting growing rods and more.
  • Dr. Kamal Ibrahim, the most senior spine surgeon in Chicago, made 2 trips to Ethiopia. In October, he arrived with a team of 10 doctors and nurses, sponsored by the Nuvasive Corporation. They operated on 5 patients, and began training Ethiopian surgeons and nurses in spine surgery.
  • Dr. Ted Belanger, of Dallas, came to Ethiopia in May, and operated on 14 patients sponsored by Medtronic Corporation.
  • One boy, Asalefew, had some neurologic impairment after surgery. He pursued his physical therapy with such dedication that we now say that he’s lying – his name is no longer Asalefew, it’s Haile Gebre- Selassie, our great runner! Now Asalefew is walking up a storm.
  • Dr. Sarah Woodrow of Kansas was in Ethiopia, sponsored by DePuy Spines. She operated on 3 of our patients, including Yalew, a young man from Gondar who was virtually paralyzed. He could not walk and could lift his hands only 6 inches. Now he’s walking and feeding himself!
  • Texas: Recently Rick was in Texas to speak in several venues, arranged by friends Kathy and John Ward. At the same time, Rick’s son Dejene arrived with 2 spine patients. Dejene, who first traveled to Texas as a young orphan in 2002 for his own TB spine surgery, brought new patients and translated for them. Dr. Ted Belanger operated on them at Medical Center of Plano with great success.
  • Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 10.13.52 PMHaymanot came from the countryside and was living in a church in Addis Ababa, when Rick admitted him to Mother Teresa’s Mission for nutritional support. He had progressive ankylosing spondylitis, bent over at a 90o angle, supporting himself with a stick as he walked. When the Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 10.13.47 PMpossibility of getting surgery in America came up, we started 2 programs: education and nutrition. He went to school to study English every day. And we gave him Plumpy-Nut, a calorie-dense peanut supplement, which cost about 1 dollar- a-day, providing an extra 1000 calories. Haymanot added 20 pounds and felt stronger than ever. After 14 hours of surgery, involving multiple Smith-Petersen osteotomies, he stands really straight. He is now in physical therapy in Dallas. He wants to return home for Ethiopian Christmas, January 7th.


Gary Segal is our Canadian friend and supporter who organized the Bring Back Hope Dinner in 2012. Moreover, Gary sponsored a patient named Tesfaye for complicated spine surgery in Vancouver, and welcomed Tesfaye into his home for 6 months. Gary returned to Ethiopia and again traveled with Tesfaye to his Agaw village in rural Gojjam.

The JDC Board visited, and reviewed our work.

Our supporters The Max and Marian Farash Foundation of Rochester, NY visited our work for the first time.

Ambassador Susan Jacobs, President Obama’s Special Emissary for Children, visited our clinic at Yekatit 12 Hospital and met many of our patients.

Rick received an honorary doctorate in science, DSc, from Kenyon College in Ohio at their commencement in May. It is his fifth honorary doctorate.


Henry Schein, Inc continues to donate INR testing supplies to us so that we can do free followup on heart patients taking blood thinners. Most are quite poor, and this is a huge help in providing them quality cardiac care.

Scoliosis Research Society (SRS) donated hundreds of backpacks for our patients.


We are moving forward to make our work more sustainable. We have 2 Ethiopian surgeons – 1 orthopedic and 1 neurosurgeon, who want to become spine surgeons. Dr. Eskinder volunteers with us every week, and both were in the operating room with our visiting teams. We look forward to the time in a few years when they will be able to do our easier cases without assistance.

Ethiopia has suffered from lack of rain in some regions, and is suffering from a food shortfall. In the words of the Ethiopian government: “the country now faces deepening food insecurity and soaring malnutrition rates, especially among children and mothers.” Working closely with Ethiopian authorities, JDC is planning an immediate response to supply supplementary food for the majority of affected people in 1 region of Gondar province, targeting food assistance to 5,400 children and mothers. This will be followed by the digging of 5 wells to provide clean water.


Margarita Manduley, a prominent attorney in Los Angeles, will host a fund-raising event with her husband at their La Loggia Restaurant on Sunday, March 20, 2016. Margarita has been to Ghana several times as well as Ethiopia and seen first-hand the work we do.

Rick will be commencement speaker at University of Rochester Medical School in May, 2016.


Zemene, a film about our patient, an orphan from Gondar with spine disease, has shown at over a dozen film festivals, and won 8 awards, including Best Documentary (Boston) and Best of the Festival (Ohio). Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone, called it “Just brilliant.” It is now available for purchase online: www.zemenefilm.com/shop.



Middlebury Magazine recently did a major profile on Rick.

Author Wyatt Orme spent 10 days at Rick’s side, exploring his work from every angle.

Rick wrote a guest blog of our TB spine patient Mubarak for Abraham Verghese’s Stanford 25 Website.


Undoubtedly, we will continue to get a large number of patients, as word spreads of our work. We will continue working with our partners Dr. Boachie, Dr. Kamal, Dr Ted, and Dr. Sarah, training Ethiopian physicians. We need to handle the large amount of data we collect in a more programmed manner. Our goal is to have a fully functioning spine centre. We aim to keep the cardiac program at the same level.

Gary Segal brought 2 spine surgeons from Vancouver to analyse our work. They calculated that there are perhaps 50,000 Ethiopians with spinal deformities. Having done over 500 surgeries, we are only 1% done! Plus, with 3 million births per year, more babies will be born with congenital defects.

It’s humbling to think that we have come from nothing to performing well-over 500 spine surgeries – and still have tens of thousands needing our immediate help. Three weeks ago, we sent 23 “super-urgent” patients to Ghana for traction and surgery. Despite this, we have hundreds waiting for surgery, including 44 newly classified as “1+,” our most urgent cases.

Whatever holidays you celebrate, we hope they are filled with warmth and love and health and good hope.

With your help – and with the Almighty’s – we can move forward. Many thanks for your support!

Dr. Rick and the JDC-Ethiopia spine and heart team


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Photos and stories taken with permission.