This Is a Soul

Dr. Rick Hodes Speaks about Curing Disease in Ethiopia

When it comes to mending a human body, medical practitioners tend to focus on biology for answers. But for Dr. Rick Hodes, who has spent the last 22 years curing sick Ethiopian children, what begins the healing practice is the recognition that each patient is a soul.

Hodes, the Medical Director for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Ethiopia, addressed a crowd of 250 at the annual AbitibiBowater lecture at Concordia on Sept. 28. The series of photos and stories, called “This is a Soul: From Sickness to Healing in Africa,” told how his personal life and medical practice in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia became permanently intersected.

His first spine disease patients were Dejene and Semegnew, whose backs were extremely deformed by tuberculosis—a condition that afflicts hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians. “I had this idea that if I adopted them, I could add them to my health insurance and get them surgery that way,” said Hodes.

“So, I thought, do I really want that much permanence in my life? I could save their lives, but then I’d be their dad,” he said. “Suddenly the answer came to me. It was: ‘the Almighty is offering you a chance to help these guys. Don’t say no.’ And so I said okay.”

Hodes adopted Dejene and Semegnew and has taken in at least 20 more children during his time in Ethiopia. Though crucial to saving those lives, Hodes soon realized that “serial adoption is not the answer to spine disease.”

Hodes eventually set up networks with doctors in Ghana, India and the Netherlands to save tens of thousands of Africans with spine and heart diseases, cancer and other illnesses. In a place where there are two thousand doctors for 80 million people, the impact he is making has been significant.

The focus of a new book called This is a Soul: The Mission of Rick Hodes and the documentary Making the Crooked Straight, Hodes accredits his work to his spirituality.

“It says in the Talmud that ‘He who saves one life saves an entire world,’” Hodes says in Making the Crooked Straight. “Every time I help one kid and I straighten out their back and their life… for me this is saving a world.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 08, published October 5, 2010.