Vancouver man fundraising to help make spine surgeries available in Ethiopia

On a warm Wednesday afternoon in downtown Vancouver six men, all standing in a line, look out onto the harbour.

They’re leaning on the balcony outside Canada Place, comparing their view to the one they saw in Ethiopia’s capital city Adis Ababa.

However it’s not the African city that unites them, it’s the man standing in the middle; his name is Dr. Rick Hodes.

The American spine doctor lives and works in Ethiopia. He adopted many children there, including Dejene and Mesfin, both there with him in Vancouver.

“We don’t even know how to pay him back because it’s so much that he has done for us,” Mesfin Hodes said.

They were once his orphaned patients and are now his adopted sons.

“Serial adoption isn’t the answer so I met the top spine surgeon on the planet and I started working with him; now I’m the only spine doctor for all of Ethopia. So I’m following about 3,000 patients,” Hodes said.

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Hodes has changed the lives of many, including Vancouver businessman Gary Segal.

“I can’t imagine the last 10 years without having met Rick,” Segal said.

In 2007, Segal and his son Justin were volunteering in Ethiopia. While there they met a boy named Tesfaye.

Segal says they learned that Tesfaye would sell items like chewing gum from a wagon to survive.

However, Tesfaye also had a deadly disease: tuberculosis of the spine.

Inspired by Dr. Hodes, the Segals flew Tesfaye to Vancouver for surgery.

He lived with the Segals for several months, returning to Ethiopia a changed man.

“We celebrated for three days in his village of this young man Tesfaye and Tesfaye means ‘my hope’ in his language,” Segal said.

Wanting to do more, the Segals held a fundraiser in 2012 in Vancouver. Named after Tesfaye, it was called an Evening to Bring Back Hope and it raised $1-million.

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“With the money we have done dozens of surgeries, we have funded nursing scholarships, close to 20,000 screenings, we built a rural health centre,” Segal said.

But five years later, that money raised in 2012 is running out, Segal says that’s why he’s hosting the second Bring Back Hope fundraiser.

The event is at the Vancouver Convention Centre at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 8.

Segal says the goal is to raise $1.5-million; some of that money would be used to build a spine centre and train doctors so that the spine surgeries can be done in Ethiopia.

Click HERE for more information about the initiative.

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