On February 16, 2013, a young man from Nazret came to see me in our JDC spine office at Yekatit 12 Hospital. He was referred by nuns. A star 9th-grade student, Bef had a droopy right eye. I took this very seriously and we did testing. His CT scan showed a huge mass behind the eye, measuring 5.5 x 4.2 cm. (2.1 x 1.6 inches).
First step – a biopsy. My big fear was that this could be SNUC – sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma, which has a very poor prognosis. Ethiopian physicians wouldn’t touch him, explaining that even a biopsy required a huge surgery. After a couple of days of searching, I located a Dr. Sandra, a professor from Minnesota. In a 10PM call, she said “I’m leaving tomorrow and am booked all day. Send him to me in the morning, fasting, and I’ll see what I can do.”
She opted for a minimal procedure through the nose, in her OPD, using local anesthesia. She carried the biopsy back to the States, and mailed it to the University of Rochester, which analyzes my samples for free. After 2 weeks of complex tests, pathologists emailed: he has “embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma of the orbit.” This is a complex tumor, but potentially treatable using several modalities.
Bef started chemotherapy in Addis Ababa. Then he needed radiation therapy. I contacted a radiation oncologist in Michigan who had provided free treatment for a patient of ours from Mother Teresa’s Mission with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “Get him here, we’ll do the rest, no cost,” Jeff said.
On July 27, 2013, we flew together to Michigan. After 2 months of radiation,
Bef returned to Ethiopia and continued chemotherapy. I made a quick trip to India, at my own expense, to bring back Actinomycin D. After 14 cycles of chemotherapy, he was cancer-free.
His host family in Michigan sent him $50 a month, and he moved in with an aunt
in Addis and enrolled in a private school. He ranked #1 in his class. Later his aunt wanted privacy and gave him a week to move out. He called me asking for advice. “We will find you a bed,” I said. We arranged alternative housing, at no cost.
This summer, I was able to send him and Tilahun, a 12-year-old cancer survivor (Ewing’s sarcoma) with 1 leg, to Camp Good Days and Special Times in the finger lakes of upstate NY. We visited the University of Rochester so both boys could thank their pathologists. Without their precise diagnosis, we could not have treated them properly.
This summer, I was able to send him, and Tilahun, a 12-year-old cancer survivor (Ewing’s sarcoma) with 1 leg, to Camp Good Days and Special Times in the finger lakes of upstate NY. We visited the University of Rochester so both boys could thank their pathologists.Without their precise diagnosis, we could not have treated them properly.
We visited the University of Rochester so both boys could thank their pathologists.Without their precise diagnosis, we could not have treated them properly.
When Bef and Tilahun went to the Rochester airport to return to Ethiopia, who was ahead of him in the US Air line? President Seligman of University of Rochester. They had a warm conversation.
Last week Bef returned to Rochester, to attend high school at the Harley School.
One of Bef’s first things to do? Returning to the University of Rochester Pathology Department to deliver a pathology specimen from another Ethiopian patient his age with a bone tumor .
Our deep thanks to all who made this happen.
Ethiopian New Year was a few weeks ago (2009). And Jewish New Year was a few days ago (5777). A medieval rabbi, the Maharil of Germany (1365-1427) used to greet people this season and say:
“May he who suspends the earth in space, inscribe you for life, on this day of goodwill.”
I certainly can’t improve on that one!
Whatever calendar you are on, we wish strength and blessings to all for a great year.
– Dr. Rick Hodes