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  • Author icon JDC at
  • Author icon November 15, 2022

By JDC Medical Director Dr. Rick Hodes

Desalegn is an orphan in his late teens. He was very stooped over with severe kypho-scoliosis when I first met him a few years ago. His spine was shaped, literally, like a question mark.

After his parents died at age 8, his aunt picked him up in the countryside and brought him to Addis Ababa.

He ended up at Mother Teresa’s Mission. His aunt died a few months later, and nobody ever visits him. He had no contact with his family. He was unsure where they were.

After surgery by Dr. Boachie in Ghana in 2006, he gained 7 inches. He felt he is alone in the world, but happy to be alive and to have a semi-straight back and a few people who care about him. He considered my family a surrogate family, and frequently joined us for dinner on Friday.

Saturday afternoon, he was walking on the main road near Arat Kilo, a mile south of the mission. 

He was walking down the hill, and when he looked up, he saw someone looking like his brother. 

He had not seen his brother in a decade. 

One one hand he thought it could not be his brother. As he approached, he was more certain. He shouted out his name: “Yared.” His brother turned around, wondering why someone was shouting his name.

“I am Desalegn,” he said, “I am your brother.” His brother looked up and immediately said “No, you cannot be my brother. My brother was crippled and stooped over. You are standing tall.”

Desalegn tried to convince him. 

He named their father and their mother, and talked about the circumstances of their deaths. It is well known in the countryside that in Addis Ababa, one can easily be cheated or robbed, and this is what Yared was expecting. 

He named their sister and their aunts. Again, his brother replied “You cannot be my brother, my brother was crippled.” 

Desalegn showed him the tattoo over his eyes, which is identical to his brother’s. And he pointed out “when we were little, we slept in the same bed. You also have 4 small vertical lines over your eyes on each side.” The lines are indistinguishable unless one looks quite closely.

Finally, Desalegn said to him “Follow me, I’ll show you.” They walked to a quiet corner of the street. Desalegn ducked behind a building, took off his shirt and showed him that he had major scars, including one going from the top to bottom of his back, and a much-straighter back than previously. 

“I met an American doctor named Rick and he flew me to a doctor in Ghana named Dr. Boachie, and now I have a new life,” he explained briefly.

They sat down to talk. Yared looked at him and started sobbing.  He said that he had hoped that Desalegn was alive, but in all likelihood, he feared he had died. At times broke into overwhelming tears about the loss of his only brother.He prayed all the time to meet his brother.

Over the past 4 years, he has made several trips to Addis Ababa – a 2 day bus ride each way, searching in vain for his brother. He went to his late aunt’s home. She died years ago, but her husband allows him to stay there.

Upon arrival, he gets up at dawn, and spends a week walking randomly in the city streets, looking here and there for his brother. Without success. How can you locate anyone in a city of 5 million souls?

Saturday, he was walking up towards Sidist Kilo, and Desalegn brother was walking the other way.

Minutes later, they were reunited.

Desalegn phoned us to meet them. I took them for fruit juice and learned about his brother’s life as a farmer in the countryside. 

“So now, will you be coming back in 10 years to visit again?” I joked. 

“10 years?” he replied. “Now we’re together,” with his hand on his brother’s shoulder. 

Like Joseph in the book of Genesis, he and his brother were reunited.

Desalegn and his brother


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