'This Is a Soul: This Mission of Rick Hodes' by Marilyn Berger

Marilyn Berger tells the story of Dr. Rick Hodes

ByABC News via logo
March 5, 2010, 2:43 PM

April 13, 2010— -- Rick Hodes, an American doctor, tries to save the world one life at a time. Hodes arrived in Africa nearly 30 years ago and stayed to help the impoverished children.

In "This Is a Soul" author Marilyn Berger narrates Hodes' journey, the people he met and the lives he saved through the work he loved.

Read an excerpt of the book below, and then head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.

Chapter 1: This Is a Soul

He was the most beautiful child I had ever seen—and certainly the dirtiest. I came upon him in the middle of a crowded sidewalk, crouched in front of the Florida Pastry, a small bakery on Arat Kilo, one of the main avenues of Addis Ababa. Hundreds of pedestrians, from his vantage point probably a forest of legs and sandaled feet, were gliding by in that distinctive and elegant walk typical of Ethiopians. A row of shoeshine boys waited for customers; a few peddlers hawked toothbrushes and shoes and jeans and shirts.

The small boy looked to me to be about four years old, his tiny right hand cupped skyward to catch the occasional coin that came his way, his eyes staring up at me through impossibly long and dusty eyelashes. His arms were no bigger around than a garden hose, and his filthy green T-shirt outlined a back that was humped out in a perfect pyramid. I'd been in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa for just a few days, but I had already learned that this was a sure sign of tuberculosis of the spine.

I happened to be walking on this particular day instead of taking my customary $1.50 taxi ride, enjoying a moment to relax because I'd completed all my reporting and was satisfied I'd gotten the story I came for. I was returning to my hotel from the clinic where Rick Hodes, an American doctor, treats impoverished children who have any number of diseases, the worst being TB of the spine, scoliosis, heart disease, and cancer. He takes on the most intractable cases, particularly when there is a chance of a cure. I had come here to write about Dr. Hodes, not only because he has devoted his life to ministering to some of the poorest people on the planet, curing what he can, ameliorating what he cannot. That is rare enough for this product of America's suburbs. What had particularly grasped my imagination was the way he lives in this impoverished country. He has taken some twenty poor and sick children into his own house and officially adopted five of them. He cares for them, feeds them, and sends every one of them to private school.

When I started to reach for some money to put into the outstretched hand of the small boy in the street, I remembered that I'd been told it's wrong to give money to beggars, that the right thing to do is to support organizations that help them.

There are hundreds, even thousands of children begging in the streets of Addis, or so I thought. I was wrong by a long shot. UNICEF reported in 2007 that there are five million orphans in Ethiopia, one of the largest populations of orphans in the world, and the number has been steadily increasing as more and more children are orphaned by AIDS. With no other means of support, these children end up looking for handouts on the street.

Still, of all the beggars in Addis, I was haunted by the one little fellow with the deformed back. I kept replaying in my mind the way he looked directly at me with his gorgeous pleading eyes, and I couldn't wait to tell Rick about the boy who had the precise disease that he could cure.

An hour later, I was in Rick's clinic, which sits outside the chapel of the Mother Teresa home for the destitute in Addis, where the Missionaries of Charity carry on the work of their renowned founder. The sisters, all identically dressed in their blue-trimmed white linen saris, cheerfully minister to some six hundred sick and dying men, women, and children. They oversee an enclave of neat dormitories nestled behind a blue metal gate guarded by a genial but firm man who has to have the fortitude to turn away even more of the sick and dying. As desperate as the condition of the people inside the gate may be, those clustered outside are the street people with no shelter or care at all.

A neat border garden greets those who make it inside, and off to the left is the chapel and a small room set aside for Rick's clinic, furnished only by a table and a few chairs and totally devoid of any medical equipment. Patients hoping to see him line up outside where they can sit on a low stone wall. Kids from the mission hang around on the days Rick is there, some hoping to be invited out for a glass of juice when he takes a break.