Behind the Scenes of Spinal Surgery: Lots of Leg Work

Menachem Weiss is serving as a JDC Global Jewish Service Corps Fellow in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where he primarily assists Dr. Rick Hodes, JDC’s Medical Director for Ethiopia.

It takes a lot of leg work to get 34 spinal patients from Ethiopia to Ghana.

For two weeks, fellow JSC fellow Sam Lewin and myself went through many steps to do just that. On behalf of our boss, Dr. Rick Hodes, who runs JDC’s medical clinic in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, we zigzagged around the city. We made stops at embassies, hospitals and travel agencies, procuring passports, visas and plane tickets, as well as blood test results, yellow-fever vaccination cards, and medical consent forms so we could hand it all off to our Ethiopian colleague, Berhanu, who would be flying with the patients, itself a complicatied scenario as several would be in wheelchairs, paralyzed from compressed spinal cords.

For necessary medical and travel information, we interviewed patients in cars, hospital waiting rooms, and street corners, sometimes translating from Oromifa [WHA] to [Amharic] and then into English.  Their spines were all contorted from Tuberculosis or Scoliosis, many at angles greater than 180 degrees. The patients were to be delivered to Dr. Oheneba Boachie-Adjei who would be performing the complex spinal surgery at his FOCOS Hospital in Accra, Ghana.

A last step in Ethiopia, was a final meeting with patient’s families at our clinic. Dr. Hodes explained the risks of surgery. Even us non-Amharic speakers understood the worried facial expressions of parents signing power of attorney and consent forms for their young children. I watched Dr. Hodes, knowing he understands well from both sides -- several of his own children have had similar dangerous spine surgeries. At one point, we all stood up together to pray – Muslim, Orthodox Christian, and Protestant families, Dr. Hodes, myself, and our staff. Our nurse closed the meeting by assuring the parents that they do not need to pack pots and pans for their children. To assuage, she describes in detail the amenities of hospital the kids were heading towards, and its lovely caring staff. She warns that there is no Ethiopian flat bread, injera, and so that they may want to pack some to comfort the children.

What a joy to witness success stories first hand. Tesfaw, pictured with blue neck brace, started walking again after surgery! Dr. Hodes himself recently visited the group on his way to the US, bringing them nearly 50 lbs of their beloved injera. They will all return soon enough, with straighter spines and in less pain, able to return to middle school, work, medical school, or perhaps start the new life they’ve been dreaming of.


 

 

 

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May 23, 2013 at 3:47 PM

 

 

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