Natnael, 18, hails from a family of 7 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He is the youngest of his four siblings, 1 sister and 3 brothers. They live in a mud house in a crowded district in Addis Ababa known as Hanna Mariam.
Natnael lived the first four years of his life as a seemingly healthy child. His life changed forever one afternoon in the front yard of his family’s small house. While his mother was giving him a bath in a large bucket, she noticed a bump on one side of his back. She thought nothing of it for a long time and let it be. After a year, the issue could no longer be ignored – the bump had grown a tremendous amount and turned into a hump.
This prompted his parents to take Natnael to a hospital. Given their poor financial situation, they decided to settle on an affordable option; the huge government teaching hospital known as Back Lion Hospital in downtown Addis Ababa. The family visited this hospital countless times over the next three years, enduring hours of waiting before being seen by duty doctors and their supervisors. Between the ages of 5 and 8, Natnael and his family were told that his problem was too severe, and that he could not be helped in Ethiopia. He was told there was no treatment anywhere in the world!
His parents were quietly advised to cherish the remaining moments of Nati’s life. Doctors predicted that this child with a deformed back was also predisposed to developing pneumonia and tuberculosis, and had only months or a few years left to live. This was the only advice that Natnael’s family received from this hospital.
Desperate and out of options, Natnael spent the next 8 years of his life seeking out faith healing. Accompanied by members of his family, Natnael visited countless churches and holy water sites, where he was subjected to multiple prayers and baptisms by holy water. This gave them some hope, but Nati’s deformity continued to progress. His family
ran out of options.He weighed 70 pounds, and had a BMI of 12.
During this daunting time, his mother described Natnael as an incredibly optimistic child. Natnael did not miss school or many activities during his childhood. He attended all grades of public school regularly and he was able to make genuine friends
who were able to look past his condition.
However, being the bright child that he was, Natnael still felt the burden of his deformity in the form of the watchful eyes of the average passerby. During their many trips seeking a solution, he felt the people in the streets staring at him at him and shaking their head in sympathy. They would cross-themselves, a way of saying “May God keep this from happening to me.” This caused him to become very self-conscious.
It seemed as though he would spend the rest of his life this way, however, fate had another plan for this boy. One day, when his mother was running errands, she met a woman from Debre Berhan, north of Addis Ababa. During their short conversation, the woman spoke about an American doctor in Addis Ababa who saved the life of children with spinal deformities.
To the mother, this was just another word of mouth suggestion by another sympathetic person. However, being desperate, she chose to look into it, not knowing that this would be the opportunity she has been searching for, for years, to save her son’s life.
She first came to our clinic on March 14, 2015. Rick diagnosed severe idiopathic scoliosis, with an estimated angle of 200 degrees deformity from front to back (AP), 160 degrees on the side (laterally), compounded by a 48 degree ATR (angle of trunk rotation, the angle between the 2 sides of the back). It was one of the worst spines he had ever seen. He wrote “BFD” on the record (New York English for “big deal”). The deformity caused Nati to lose 71% of his lung function. His entire “FVC” (forced vital capacity, the total amount of air he could breathe out) was .91 Liters, about 3 cans of Coke! At 8000 feet above sea level! Dr. Boachie ranked Nati a 1+, our most urgent rating.
Another “chance meeting” would seal Nati’s fate. He was in clinic with us on Oct 30, 2015 when a delegation from the Max and Marian Farash Foundation of Rochester, NY visited. Dr. Rick mentioned “boy this kid needs surgery, I wish I had funding.” Immediately, the Farash trustees said “You have the money now, do what he needs.”
Nati travelled to FOCOS Hospital in Ghana less than a month later. After evaluation he was put into 4 months of long-term halo traction. On May 10, he underwent 6 hours of surgery, still in traction, led by Dr. Boachie. Specifically, he underwent posterior spinal fusion from T2-L4, Smith- Petersen osteotomies, thoracoplasties, concave ribs osteotomies, discectomies and bone grafts. His post-surgical course was complicated by low blood pressure, but he pulled through and is doing well.
Nati returned to Ethiopia last week, and will spend the summer recovering, then restart school. His goal: “to become an engineer.” With 4 rods and 18 screws in place, several inches taller and 26 pounds heavier, we’re sure he’ll make it!
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