Thanks to Rotaplast, these kids are fixed!

At this moment, 10 million Ethiopians are threatened with drought and food insecurity. JDC’s response is to provide  150,000 packets of PlumpyNut, a peanut-based food supplement, and to dig 5 wells in drought-affected areas of Gondar.

Dr. Rick was in Gondar to deliver the food. After his team departed early, he was the only physician for 100 miles! During nutritional screening in the village of Hamusit, 3 babies showed up who had cleft lips and palates. These babies are at higher risk for nutritional problems and developmental delay. Rick took photos,  recorded their information, and told Zemene, the  head of the health center “I’ll contact you if I ever hear of a cleft team coming.”

Rick returned to Addis Ababa. Just  3 days later, Dr. Angelo Capozzi, founder of Rotaplast in San Francisco, stopped in to say hi – to ask for patients. In the 24 years since they were founded, Rotaplast has operated on over 17,000 kids worldwide!

Rick relates:

“I immediately phoned Zemene,  the health center director – phone was switched off. I called every hour – no luck. At 4PM, I stepped into a corner and said a prayer, asking that Zemene turn his phone on,  so we could help these kids. Just 30 seconds later, I got a text from the phone company – the phone had just switched on. Zemene went to work to round up the kids.”

By Monday, he had located them. They had no funds to travel 500 miles to the capital. Rick was in the middle of clinic at Yekatit 12 Hospital, when he handed a $100 bill to his assistant, with this instructions: “change this, and wire it to Zemene in Hamusit for travel costs.” Then ensued multiple problems – one bank would not accept the money, there was no electricity in Hamusit, there no internet access, someone tried  to inflate prices and skim money. Finally, we got Zemene on the phone: “borrow this money right now, get them onto a bus today, and you’ll pick up the money in the morning, when the bank is functioning.” The group travelled from Hamusit to Bahar Dar to Addis Ababa, arriving on a Thursday morning. We admitted them to the CURE Hospital, and the following day they underwent surgery by Dr. Angelo and his team – the last 3 patients they operated on.

After surgery, they moved into Mother Teresa’s Mission nearby. The  husband of one of the women slept on Dr. Rick’s living room couch for 10 days while his daughter healed.

Today they phoned – they’re back in Hamusit, the kids are fine.

Thank you Rotaplast – your help, and fantastic timing, saved these kids.


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Why are Tilahun and Abel smiling?

Being in Ethiopia so long ​has given my team and I great inspiration. The courage of my patients never ceases to astound us all. And sometimes, we are able to help patients unexpectedly. ​

DSC01346.jpgSo when a boy needing a corneal transplant walked into my office on a Friday, I told him that I am not an eye doctor. But I took a photo and immediately sent it to my friend, Dr. Geoff Tabin, a renowned ophthalmologist in Utah. To my surprise, Geoff wrote back “Rick, I arrive Sunday with fresh corneas, happy to help.” 4 days later, this boy had a new cornea!

My long-term spine patient Fekadu is also blind. B​oth his spinal deformity and blindness are due to tuberculosis as a child. Fekadu has overcome a lot, ​has a degree in history from Addis Ababa University (the Harvard of Ethiopia), ​and managed to become a teacher. He asked me if I could get him a braille typewriter. I have no sources of typewriters, but I put that request into a commencement speech. Someone who heard the speech contacted me, and put me in touch with the wonderful group Volunteers of Vacaville,​ in California. VOV donated a typewriter, which we passed on to Fekadu. He is shown with a couple of our volunteers.​

And now, let me introduce Tilahun. Tilahun is a boy from Alamata in Tigrai, ​who travelled hundreds of miles across the country to a  Addis Ababa, for treatment of a terribly enlarged and painful tibia, just  below his left knee. ​We arranged his amputation, and sent the tumor to the University of Rochester in New York for detailed pathologic analysis. The diagnosis: a cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma.

We found medicine, and arranged chemotherapy. ​Tilahun underwent 17 ​grueling cycles of chemotherapy. He vomited like hell, he lost his hair. We encouraged him as much as we could – we’d get him movie tickets – he planned his outings for ​the ​weeks where he would not be vomiting. His favorite movie ​is​ The Walk, which in 3D is simply spectacular.

Tilahun is now cancer-free. Now, Tilahun’s goal is to get an artificial leg, and return to school.  We​’​ve put in the order for the prosthesis​. I sat down with him the other day, to discuss his life. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked.

Tilahun looked at me, and he burst out crying.  I was wondering if he was worried​ about his cancer returning, or he was ​missing his family up in Tigrai​, or concerned about missing school. But this kid astounded us all. He composed himself and said “I feel so bad when I see blind people here – they have such a difficult life. Our​ streets have holes they can fall into. I want to start an organization to help them.”

A few days later, my blind patient Abel came to see me. Abel comes from a remote area of Gojjam province, and was brought to Addis Ababa​ as a child, ​with promises to send him to a blind school. Instead, someone put him up to begging on the street, until Abel was able to escape. A​bel overcame that, and returned to school. Several years ago, with assistance from a Hawaii Foundation,  we brought him to the Colorado School for the Blind where he underwent intense training in blind skills. Abel is now studying social work at Addis Ababa University.

Abel was recently walking on the street here and fell into a hole, injuring his back. And he broke his cane. He came to me to get his back checked, then asked if I happened to have a cane. “Actually, I buy canes on I ​always ​keep​ a couple at home,” I said, “blind people ask me for canes​.”

I decided to introduce Tilahun and​ Abel, and let Tilahun ​deliver the cane. ​We arranged a meeting, and both ​Abel showed up at clinic​ last week​. Abel was carrying a brass bell from Colorado, reading “Take Charge with Confidence.” T​ilahun and Abel​ became instant friends. And Tilahu gave Abel a new cane. “Tilahun,” Abel said, “for me to get a new cane – it’s like a new car!” Thank you so much.”  DSC01344.jpgIMG_1522.jpgSpTB Fekadu Wolde-Tensai (Blind) 8-2010 - 02.jpgTypewriter 8-2013.jpg