Vail Symposium kicks off winter programming with inspiring stories from Ethiopia

Dr. Rick Hodes has been working in Ethiopia for almost 30 years, forming the largest collection of the most deformed spine patients in the world.
Richard Lord | Special to the Weekly |

If you go …

What: Making the Crooked Straight: Creating Medical Miracles in Ethiopia.

When: Thursday, Dec. 7. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.; program starts at 6 p.m.

Where: Donovan Pavilion, Vail.

Cost: Tickets are $25 in advance; $35 after 2 p.m. the day of the event. Students, teachers, Vail Resorts and Eagle County government employees can receive discounted tickets when purchased in advance.

More information: Visit or call 970-476-0954.

VAIL — Some people may collect coins; other people may collect concert posters. Dr. Rick Hodes collects spines — in a manner of speaking.

For nearly three decades, Hodes has been working with patients who have spinal deformities, tumors and congenital heart disease in Ethiopia and has amassed what a colleague calls the “largest collection of the worst spines in the world.”

For the past 10 years, Dr. Andrew Kaufman has been working on the area above the spine, expanding the field of neurosurgery in the same country.

On Thursday, Dec. 7, these two doctors will be sharing the stage at Donovan Pavilion for an evening of stories and inspiration in the first program of the Vail Symposium’s winter season.

“We’re looking forward to kicking off our 2017-18 winter season with what will surely be an entertaining evening with Dr. Hodes and Dr. Kaufman,” said Kris Sabel, executive director of the Vail Symposium. “These doctors have amazing stories that I know will inspire our audiences.”

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Global topic

Hodes has been “making the crooked straight” in Ethiopia for almost 30 years, adopting his first three patients in 2001 and now having the largest collection of the most deformed spine patients in the world. Hodes will share stories about evaluating patients and arranging treatment inside Ethiopia, in India and in Ghana with his signature blend of humor and pathos.

Joining Hodes is Kaufman, a retired neurosurgeon who has expanded the field of neurosurgery in Ethiopia. Ten years ago, there were five neurosurgeons in this country of more than 90 million people and three neurosurgeons in training. There are now more than 20 neurosurgeons and more than 30 in training. Sharing his personal experiences, Kaufman will describe working with the Ethiopian neurosurgeons and those in training.

“The Vail Symposium is committed to thought-provoking and diverse programming for the community,” Sabel said. “I can’t think of a better way to start off our season than discussing a global topic with these remarkable doctors.”

About the speakers

Hodes is an American internist, living in Ethiopia for 29 years. He is the medical director for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. More than a decade ago, he started a program to help kids with spinal deformities. He is following nearly 3,000 patients and arranges surgeries in Ethiopia, Ghana and the U.S. Hodes is a Master of the American College of Physicians, has been a CNN Hero and holds five honorary doctorates. He lives with his family in Addis Ababa.

Kaufman is a retired neurosurgeon who has spent one month each year for the past 10 years as a volunteer in Ethiopia. He has worked at both the Gondar Medical College in Gondar and at the Addis Ababa University School of Medicine and its teaching hospital, Tikur Anbessa (The Black Lion Hospital). He has been involved in the residency program in neurosurgery and taught at the Medical School as well as performed surgery and taught neurosurgical techniques and practice.

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