The Patients

Travelling to Ethiopia and actually meeting people who had the same condition as I did was a surreal experience. As I shadowed Dr. Hodes in his office, I learnt that each patient's condition was complex in its own way. Some had terrible "gamma" shaped spines and some were paralyzed from the waist down. Some were teenagers like I, and some were just barely two years old. Despite the physical differences among them, it was apparent that there was a quiet dignity and composure in not only the patients but also their parents -- all of them were hopeful and genuinely believed they could turn their lives around. I felt like my journey, while incredibly difficult, paled in comparison to these patients. I spent time meeting with several potential surgery candidates I could help - you can learn more about them and their incredible stories below.


Meet Bires...

My new friend Bires and I relaxing in Dr. Hodes' garden...

My new friend Bires and I relaxing in Dr. Hodes' garden...

Bires' 3D scan

Bires' 3D scan

 

Bires Gashu is a 25 year old from Northern Ethiopia with a very bad back, he also has one of the most remarkable stories. He has a case of kypho-scoliosis - a condition that Dr. Rick Hodes sees very often. Bires is a trained tailor, but with the constant burden of his condition, he could no longer continue with his work. There was just too much pain and he desperately needed help. The only problem was that Dr. Rick (who is the only spine doctor in a country of 100 million people) was in Addis Ababa. 700 kilometers from Gojjam, where Bires resides. Without enough money to fly to Addis, Bires along with his brother, set out on the journey to Addis Ababa on foot! For 8 days, Bires found shelter by knocking on strangers door's and saying 'ye'egziabeher engida' which means "god's guest". Bires says, "if you said that to anyone, they would take you in for the night, give you food and a bed to spend the night. No gojjam christian would say no to that request". They would walk during the day and make the holy request at night. Now, Bires stays at Dr. Rick's house and awaits surgery. When I met Bires he told me that he hopes to continue being a tailor and wishes that one day, he can start his own shop and earn income for his family. Bires' story is one of extreme resilience and faith: to walk over 700 km let alone with a horrible spine is unthinkable and admirable in the highest respect.


Meet Helina...

Helina and I hanging out at Dr. Hodes' clinic in Addis Ababa

Helina and I hanging out at Dr. Hodes' clinic in Addis Ababa

Helina's X-Ray

Helina's X-Ray

 

Helina is a 21 year old from Addis Ababa and has an "S" scoliosis curve like I did. She has experienced many difficulties with this problem not just physically but also mentally. Along with having endless headaches and not being able to sit properly, Helina has had to drop out of school 3 times due to her classmates bullying her. She was often called "gobit" which means "bent" and had no friends due to her spinal deformity. Despite all this, she weathered the storm and just completed 12th grade. She hopes to go on to university and wants to become an architect. When I met her at the hospital, she made it clear to me that she wanted to work hard, she wanted to earn money for her family but cannot due to her condition. Helina hopes that surgery can turn her life around. Her bright smile and unconditional happiness really touched me. Despite the fact that she had a horrible spine, she was still cheerful and happy to meet me and talk to me about her condition. Her response to adversity holds a lesson for everyone: No matter the issue, just keep moving along with a smile and somehow you will find a way...


Meet Ahmed...

Ahmed describing his difficult situation in detail...

Ahmed describing his difficult situation in detail...

 

When I met Ahmed for the first time and he explained his story to me, I almost cried. Like Helina, Ahmed has been insulted and tormented by his peers, prompting him to drop out of school and move to Addis Ababa away from everything. As for Ahmed's family, there is not much left of it. His father passed away 6 months ago and both of his sisters passed away 3 years ago. Currently, he has one brother and his mother is very sick and weak. When I asked more about his mother, Ahmed told me, "I have no father. No one to help me and my mother is dying. It is excruciatingly painful. More painful than my back is my mother's condition. I want to help her but I don't know how and physically can't". When I asked what he wanted to do after surgery he told me that he just wants to save his mother. If he can't save her, he hopes that surgery will enable her to at least die with food in her mouth. Ahmed's story is one of great despair. So much has gone wrong in his life so far and it is truly heartbreaking to hear him explain his story. Spinal surgery will enable him to go out and work to help what is left of his family. 

I Have Very Little Left in This World, I am About to Lose That Too.
— Ahmed Yesuf

Meet ambesse...

Ambesse (Arsenal Fan) chuckling as I tell him I am a Liverpool FC fan!

Ambesse (Arsenal Fan) chuckling as I tell him I am a Liverpool FC fan!

Ambesse's X-Ray

Ambesse's X-Ray

 

Ambesse is a 17 year old and like Bires, has a bad case of kypho-scoliosis. He wants to be a doctor but dropped out of school in grade 4 because of his spinal deformity. Both of Ambesse's parents are farmers and are very poor -- Ambesse wants to work to support his family but like everyone else, his bad back restricts him from exerting himself too much. When I asked him what challenges he faces the most, Ambesse said two things to me. He first said that he has an extremely poor appetite and subsequently is very weak. The next thing he said really touched me. Ambesse explained that at school he was regularly bullied not only by peers but also by teachers. His classmates would throw stones at him and call him "the devil". Meanwhile, the teachers would threaten other students that Ambesse would haunt them if they don't behave.  It was clear that the harsh and cruel realities that Ambesse faces on an everyday basis makes him feel as if he is different and inferior when in actuality he just has an abnormal spine. When I asked him what he hopes for in the future, he explained to me, "All I want to be is normal again".  

I am Not a Monster, I am Just a Boy With a Bad Back...
— Ambesse Hailu