Few people can actually say they’ve devoted their lives to helping children in need, but even fewer can say they’ve brought them into their home, and family, in order to do so. Dr. Rick Hodes is one of the latter.
“Adoption is not the answer to spinal disease,” joked Hodes, medical director in Ethiopia for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
But 10 years ago, in order to help Semegn and Dejene, two young Ethiopians suffering from spinal tuberculosis, adoption was the safest option. By adopting the young orphans, Hodes could add them to his health insurance, covering their surgery in Texas and allowing them into the United States.
“I had to think about it — for a weekend,” he said. “It was that easy. Nobody else would help, I had to do something.”
Since then, Hodes has developed medical programs that send children to the U.S. and Canada for heart and spinal surgery.
Hodes spoke to a packed auditorium at Concordia’s Homecoming 2010 AbitibiBowater lecture last Tuesday night. The lecture, entitled “This is a Soul: From sickness to healing in Africa,” consisted mostly of anecdotes of Hodes’ 22 years in Africa. While lecture tours are often fundraising events, for the student audience he focused more on his work, his life and his philosophy: finding a way to help those in need.
In 2007 Hodes was recognized for his work and named as one of “CNN’s Heroes,” a title awarded by the news network to ordinary people for their extraordinary achievements, in the “Championing Children” category.
In a slideshow accompanying his lecture, picture after picture of disfiguring diseases and young children with the posture of 90-year-old men shocked the audience. Hodes opens his home to as many children as he can accommodate, and there is never an empty bed in his modest Ethiopian abode. Of the 20 or so kids that reside with him while being treated, he has officially adopted five boys, the maximum legally allowed. A bachelor, Hodes cares for them himself, making sure they receive medical care and go to school.
The lack of medicine and health care in Ethiopia makes his job a demanding one. Catering to medical needs for the poor, Hodes talked about the difficulty of finding the resources available to treat the locals. He is infinitely grateful for the Internet, as it has brought in manpower and promoted awareness from across the world. With one click of a mouse, a photo of a young Ethiopian’s spine ironically twisted like a question mark is uploaded to a co-worker in his home city of Long Island, N.Y. to help in the diagnosis.
Communications student Vanessa Risch admired Hodes’ work: “You live in your own bubble, think your school, work and friends are the most important things ever,” she said. “It’s eye-opening to see how he gives all that up to help people he doesn’t even know.”
Hodes concluded his lecture by asking his audience to get involved and help people: “One day the Messiah will come and say “show me the bottom of your shoes’. Wayne Gretzky wisely said “you miss 100 per cent of the shots you never take.’ So get your shoes dirty and take your shots.”