Please help us save Abdi’s life!

Here is your chance to save the life of an Ethiopian student!


Abdi is a 19-year-old university student, studying mechanical engineering at Welaita University. He is a very good student. And he has overcome a lot to get there.

Abdi comes from an observant Moslem family from the town of Asela. The family speaks Oromo language at home. They fast on Ramadan, celebrate on the holidays, and the boys walk to the local mosque every day.

He has 4 siblings: His older sister Hanan is a teacher, Mustafa works as a welder, and his sister Shekukri is a nursing student, and brother Melkias is in 8th grade.

His dad is a guard at a cow laboratory, and supports the family on $44/month before taxes. They own 1 cow, and do farming, producing 400 kg of barley per year. They live in a rented 3-room mud home with a corrugated aluminum roof (“korkoro” in the local language). Each room has a single dim light bulb. Water and toilet are outside. Their house rent? $3.70. Per year.

Abdi had a tough childhood. As his spine deformed, he was unable to walk on hills or long distances. Local kids would taunt him with the word “gobata,” a strong insult, meaning “hunchback.” Despite this, he was among the top 10 students at high school, and was admitted to a great school – Welaita University where he is a solid student, majoring in mechanical engineering. He gets help from his older sister, who send him $14/month for books and expenses.

All this is remarkable in itself, without a bad back – a boy from a poor family who has done great. But he walked into my office and said “I have a bad back, can you help me?”

We have examined over 3,000 Ethiopians with spinal deformities in the past 13 years, and he is one of the worst. His spine has been deforming since he was young, it is shaped like a saxophone, where T8 is higher than T2. While he is neurologically intact, his spinal deformity is literally crushing his lungs.

We own a breathing machine, and did lung tests – Abdi’s lung function (vital capacity) is 6% predicted. In the photos shown, we have used the CT scan’s “lung window” to show his lungs in blue, and the last slide is the lungs of a healthy 14 year old who had been scanned that day as well, for comparison.

Abdi is breathing with his abdominal muscles, and has no reserve. If he gets pneumonia, he will die. But we have done complex tests, “his heart is normal and the pressure in his lungs is not dangerous (minimal pulmonary hypertension).

Abdi wants to finish school and work as an engineer, marry, and have children. But Abdi’s condition is not sustainable. His only hope? Going to FOCOS Hospital in Ghana and going into ambulatory traction for months, followed by surgery to reshape his spine. There is no guarantee of success, but without this, he is bound to have a much shorter lifespan.

Our challenge: to raise $40,000 to help Abdi get to Ghana for surgery. Please help!

Many thanks,

Dr. Rick Hodes

Story and photos posted with Abdi’s permission

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Senia’s emergency trip to Ghana

IMG_4533In mid-June, 9-year-old Senia was carried into our clinic in Addis Ababa. She is from the “Silte” ethnic group, a unique group numbering about 750,000 – less than 1% of the Ethiopian population. She only speaks Silte language. Her dedicated parents are farmers. Her dad said to me “I have very little money, but I’ll do anything I can to help my daughter to walk again.”

They told us that she could not walk for about four months. First, one leg stopped working, then some weeks later, a second leg stopped working. She has difficulty controlling her urine, and upon exam, has sustained clonus and an upgoing toe.

Her CT scan shows that she has a severe deformity that we characterize as a “gamma.” With traction and surgery, it is possible that she may walk again. Without this, she will certainly remain paralyzed and lose more function. In that case, she can easily die in the next year.

We jumped into action. Last Friday, Dr. Rick flew with her and another patient to FOCOS Hospital in Accra, for traction and surgery. Fortunately, we have a boy named Mohammednur already in Ghana who speaks both Amharic and Silte language, so he can translate for her.

FOCOS is filled with Ethiopian spine patients, and we present photos of them. We are delighted to see their progress. Several months ago, Dr. Rick brought Beshir (blue shirt), a paralyzed boy, back to Ghana for intense physical therapy. Now he has some control of his right leg and is fully continent.

We greatly appreciate your help and ask for your continued support for Senia and the rest of our patients. And keep praying for all our patients!

All my best,

Dr. Rick

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Repairing Ethiopian Hearts in India

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We now have seventeen patients in India undergoing heart procedures by Dr. Krishna at the  AIMS – Amrita Hospital in Cochin, India. We are not fully funded and would greatly appreciate  contributions – from small gifts to full sponsorships of $5,000 per child. Detailed information is  available on each patient.

Click here for detailed information about each patient.

Click here to donate. Donations are tax-deductible and contribute directly to JDC’s Heart and Spine Project.

Thank you!

Rick Hodes, MD and the JDC-Ethiopia Heart and Spine Team

(Contact Us:


Munira – Courageous girl walks again

MuniraMunira is a 10 year old girl who was carried into our office on her mom’s back in July, 2013. The family of 5 lives in a mud house without water – they use a neighborhood latrine. She was newly paralyzed. We pieced together the story: she had TB of the spine which had not been treated, she fell off a chair, and her unstable spine damaged the spinal cord. She could not walk at all. On exam she was hyperreflexic, had + Babinsky response, but still had some feeling in her legs as well as some knee movement, but no toe movement. We immediately did CT scan, MRI, and started her on TB treatment. Her mom delivered her to the airport, piggy-back the following week. She flew to FOCOS Hospital in Accra.  At FOCOS Hospital, she had 10 weeks of traction, and then major surgery and lots of physical therapy. Now she is delighted to walk on her own, using a walker. She has the rest of this year to recover, then restart school. Her goal? To become a doctor! Congratulations Munira, we admire your courage. Story and photos presented with permission   Munira5 Munira2   Munira3 Munira4 Munira7 (1)

24 patients depart for spine surgery in Ghana by Dr. Boachie’s FOCOS team


Early Wednesday morning, we met 24 patients in the airport, and successfully got them onto their flight to Accra, accompanied by our nurse. We also sent 20 kilos of dried Ethiopian injera to eat, as well as several hundred packets of PlumpyNut, a peanut-based nutritional supplement. Luckily, there’s a PlumpyNut factory here in Ethiopia.

This is a very diverse group – they range in age from 7 to 27; some have scoliosis (S-shaped spine), some have kyphosis (forward-bent spine) due to TB or congenital. We have all religions and many ethnicities. Tesfalem, from Axum, had a 2-day bus ride to get to Addis Ababa with his mom.

Several children need “growing rods” which will grow with them for years. One of the kids is wonderful 8 year old girl who is also a dwarf. A young woman and young man, an accountant and an artist respectively, are in their late 20s and walk with crutches due to having polio when they were young.

Many patients have huge challenges with multiple spine angles over 100 degrees. Some have lost over 70% of their lung volume – look at the photo of Sintayehu, compared with me, and consider the size of his lungs. Our belts are at the same level – we should be the same height. All the difference has come out of his chest.

Patients with severe deformities will have 4 holes drilled into their skulls then spend months in sitting, walking, and lying-down traction, 23 hours a day, as their spines slowly straighten before surgery. Stay tuned for more details.

Please consider donating to help them, as well as so many others here in our care.

We are now following about 1400 spine patients! Please keep them in your

Dr. Rick Hodes and the JDC-Ethiopia Spine Team

Photos and X-rays presented with permission.

Betelhem B pic

Betelhem B2

Betelhem B

Ababayehu pic


Ababayehu pic2



Foliyana pic


Foliyana back






Sint back Sint and me


Sint sp




Tesfalem (2)

Tesfahun T




Zinash 2


Zinash spine x-ray


Update From Ghana: Setting a World Record

Right now we have 35 Ethiopians in Ghana for spine surgery. 22 have had surgery and are recovering, and 13 are in traction to slowly stretch their spines before corrective surgery. We are now dealing with the most complex and deformed spine patients on the planet, and able to give them back their lives.

These brave kids leave their families and spend months in traction and therapy before undergoing surgery which can last 14 hours by the finest surgeons in the world.

This is creating important new knowledge about complex spine disease and how it can be treated. We are setting a world record: our sources
inform us that NOBODY on the planet has 13 kids in traction right now!

Please continue your support!




Our thanks to Henry Schein, Inc.

As we send more of our patients out for heart surgery in India and America, more patients require follow up care in Ethiopia. Patients suffering from rheumatic heart disease often need their native valves replaced with mechanical valves.

These patients require lifelong oral blood thinners (warfarin or coumadin). They must have periodic blood tests to monitor their blood coagulation after surgery and adjust the dose accordingly. In the past, we sent our patients labs in Addis Ababa to check their INR test.

Now things have improved: Henry Schein, Inc donated a portabe INR machine, about the size of a pocket calculator, that allows us to check our patients’ blood in our own clinics, on our own time. The portable machine can be easily brought anywhere in the country. This machine will save us and our patients money and time. The machine was hand-delivered to us, and is now in frequent use.

Pictured below is Almaz, a 12 year old girl who suffered from mitral valve disease when she came to us. She was very sick for years, abandoned by her family, and had dropped out of school.

We’ll have a separate entry on Almaz, because she has her own amazing story which is worth telling. She has started school and visits us in clinic to check her INR and say hello.

Thank you, Henry Schein, Inc!

Dr. Rick Hodes