The roughly eight-hour spinal surgery took place March 5, only days after Dawit Berhanu arrived in the United States and met his host family and surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Kanel

By Jasmine Leyva (The Mercury News) |

Plenty jet lagged after nearly 9,000 miles of air travel, Dawit Berhanu wasn’t the least bit nervous for a life-changing spinal surgery.

The 15-year-old flew from Ethiopia to the Santa Clara Valley earlier this month for a procedure to correct the curvature of his spine from scoliosis. The surgery was done at no cost thanks to a local doctor and assistance from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a Cupertino family and Good Samaritan Hospital.

The roughly eight-hour spinal surgery took place March 5, only days after Dawit arrived in the United States and met his host family and surgeon, Campbell resident Jeffrey Kanel, who specializes in adult and pediatric scoliosis treatment and surgeries.

“He’s waited for this surgery for almost two years,” Frehiwot Gebremichael, a Good Samaritan social work manager and translator for Dawit, told The Campbell Reporter on March 1.

“It’s very hard to find someone who will do such a surgery in such a generous way,” Dawit said through Gebermichael.

The surgery resulted in permanent screws being placed into Dawit’s spine and the attachment of permanent rods to straighten it out.

“Once it’s corrected, he will be more balanced and better proportioned. The most important thing is that it won’t get any worse than it is now,” Kanel said, adding that Dawit’s condition is idiopathic scoliosis, a common deformity caused by the condition.

Kanel was inspired to perform the free surgery after viewing the documentary “Making the Crooked Straight” a few years ago at the Cinequest film festival, held annually in the South Bay. The film focuses on treating children and young adults with spine diseases in Ethiopia.

Kanel met the film’s director at the screening and asked to get in touch with Rick Hodes, the subject of the film and a doctor who has spent the last 20 years in Ethiopia serving children with scoliosis or kyphosis. Hodes’ work is done with assistance from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Jewish communities and people.

“It took a little while, but here we are,” Kanel said, adding that March 1 was the first time he met Dawit, though in the run-up to the surgery he received Dawit’s medical files and x-rays from Hodes via email.

“I’ve met Dr. Hodes a few times now. He comes to some of our medical conferences on scoliosis from time to time. He’s very well received and well known,” Kanel said.

Kanel donated his services, and Good Samaritan Hospital covered Dawit’s hospital stay and remaining medical expenses. Surgical materials were donated by a medical supply company.

Continue reading this story on The Mercury News
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