Doctor Devotes Life to Helping Children With Spine Diseases

Rick Hodes helps poor children in Ethiopia get life-saving surgery.

April 16, 2010 — -- Dr. Rick Hodes went to Ethiopia to help victims of the famine in the mid-1980s. Twenty-eight years later, the American doctor still is there, singlehandedly saving hundreds of young lives.

"For me, I wake up every morning and I think of all of these people who are really depending on me to stay alive," he said.

Hodes is the subject of a new book and an HBO documentary airing this week, and he is the "World News" person of the week.

His patients are some of the poorest in the world who live at Mother Teresa's clinic in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They suffer from afflictions that are unheard of in the West -- tuberculosis of the spine that strikes children and causes twisted backs, collapsed lungs and death.

"I have a to-do list ... to try to get them proper medical care, to try and get them the important chemotherapy to save their lives," Hodes said. "It's an ongoing challenge."

Hodes has arranged for more than 60 of these children to go abroad for corrective surgery, raising the money for their travels himself on a case-by-case basis. He has also taken the orphans into his own home, adopting five of his own.

Click Here to Help Fund Dr. Hodes' Spinal Surgeries

Ten years ago, he met two abandoned orphans with tuberculosis of the spine -- one had a 90-degree angle, the other a 120-degree angle.

To get them the surgery they needed in the United States, Hodes adopted them, added them to his health insurance plan and brought them to Dallas for medical care.

"They had a really good surgery ... and then they came back to Ethiopia and they're been going back and forth ever since," Hodes said. "One of them is in 10th grade in Greensboro, [N.C.,] and he wants to be a physicist and one of them is now a freshman in college in Indiana and he wants to be a chemist.

"These are abandoned orphans who had no future at all," he added.

The cases and the kids kept coming. Now 20 foster children live with Hodes, many of whom are undergoing treatment. So far this year, he has 52 new spine patients.

Hodes' Mission Inspires Author

Marilyn Berger, 73, decided to write a book about Hodes and his kids entitled, "This is a Soul: The Mission of Rick Hodes." But when she traveled to Ethiopia for the book, it was someone else who changed her life.

"He was crouched down, hand reaching up for coins; his arms looked to be about the width of a garden hose," Berger said. "He has a dirty, green shirt on that covered his back that was shaped like a pyramid."

Berger quickly took the boy, named Danny, to Hodes for help. He arranged for surgery and Berger offered to let the boy recuperate with her in New York.

"As he brought [Danny], my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer," Berger said. "And my husband got very fond of him. And as my husband got sicker and sicker and he had died ... Danny had moved into our lives and he is still here filling a great hole in my life."

Berger now is raising Danny as her own son.

"I was never a mother before. I had no idea what I was getting into," she said. "I'm thrilled to have him in my life."

"I just try to look at the bigger picture, saving the lives of people who other people might not care about," Hodes said. "And that's what keeps me going."

To contact Rick Hodes directly about his mission, you can e-mail