Dr. Rick Hodes has found funding and surgeons for sick Ethiopians

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Elan Kogutt

Dr. Rick Hodes, a CNN Hero and the subject of the HBO documentary, “Making the Crooked Straight”, will be speaking at Texas Hillel (at the northeast corner of 21st and San Antonio streets) at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Hodes, an American doctor who has lived and worked in Africa for over 25 years, is the medical director of Ethiopia for the international nonprofit American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. After training in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Rick, as Ethiopians call him, went to Ethiopia as a relief worker during the 1984 famine and has been there ever since. He has worked with refugees in Rwanda, Zaire, Tanzania, Somalia and Albania. Currently, he is the senior consultant at a Mother Teresa’s Catholic mission helping the impoverished and sick with heart disease, spine disease and cancer. 

This past summer I had the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia when Liberal Arts Honors awarded me a “Wise Wanderer Scholarship.” There I witnessed Hodes’ amazing work. As I stood in the examination room at the Cure Hospital in Addis Ababa, I was struck with awe while watching Hodes examine patient after patient with severe spine and heart disease. The line was endless and in only one day we examined over 70 patients — twice the number of patients a doctor in the U.S. would see, all presenting some of the worst spinal cases an American doctor would see in his lifetime. 

With such limited access to health care in Ethiopia — one doctor for every 10,000 Ethiopians — and with him personally running the only spine clinic in the country, Hodes feels it is his duty to work at every waking moment. Without any arrogance, he said to me, “If I didn’t help them — all these people (his constant influx of patients) would die.” Hodes works at three different clinics seeing patients for free, sometimes even giving money from his own pocket to pay for expenses such as the patients’ bus fare so they can continue to visit. In a typical day he will see anywhere between 50 and 90 patients, diagnosing a vast variety of illnesses simple and complex. Above all, he is known for helping young people with diseases of the spine, which devastate East African countries. Hodes goes above and beyond to care for his patients, even opening his home for people recovering from surgery and providing them with food and shelter.

Hodes works tirelessly to find and diagnose Ethiopians and match them with funding, surgeons and facilities to undergo surgery. When I was there I witnessed the process from start to finish, from patients timidly coming in to meet Hodes and going through intensive medical tests to flying from Addis Ababa to Accra, Ghana, where they would receive life-saving surgeries. As all of the patients stood side by side, I felt as though I could make out a word from the twisted spines.

I was incredibly inspired by Hodes; he combines a love for others with practical application. Please do not miss the rare opportunity to hear him speak at UT. 

Kogutt is a psychology and liberal arts honors junior from Dallas.