Tesfaye (centre), donors Gary and Nancy Segal, and VGH staff.

Miracle patient from Africa reunites with VGH staff

“He looks so different. I couldn’t even recognize him. It’s a miracle,” says Esther Chongo, a nurse at VGH, after seeing a spine patient years later and from half a world away.

Eight years ago, donors flew Tesfaye Anagaw from Ethiopia to Vancouver, where Children’s Hospital and VGH staff, led by Dr. Marcel Dvorak and Dr. Michael Boyd, performed a complex 14 hour surgery, outside of publicly funded surgery time. They repaired Tesfaye’s profound kyphosis (forward bend in the spine), a result of untreated spinal tuberculosis. It was the most severe our had ever seen.

Spring 2009. This shows the profound kyphosis Tesfaye suffered from.

Patient gains & losses

It’s no wonder Esther didn’t recognize Tesfaye now, as he’s back in town visiting the donors and VGH staff. He’s gained seven inches from the surgery, and lost several inches… of hair.

“I did his wound care, managed his medication, bathed him and washed his hair. I remember he had a big afro,” laughs Esther. Tesfaye smiled and laughed when she reminded him of that memory.

Lise Belanger, was Tesfaye’s former case manager and remembers what a good patient he was. “He never complained and always smiled. He was willing to work through the pain.”

“To see a patient who was that critical and to see them walking now, as a spinal nurse, that’s what makes me smile. It’s beautiful,” says Esther.

Tesfaye visits VGH staff

Tesfaye’s plans for the future

Prior to the surgery Tesfaye was selling gum and pens out of a wheelbarrow. Today he is studying accounting and hopes to one day open a café, things he couldn’t have done without the surgery at VGH.

“I am now equal with my friends and I can have a normal life,” he says. “Thanks to God for connecting me to Gary and Nanci [donors] and to all of you at VGH who saved my life.”

Watch the story on Global TV

Global TV met with Tesfaye and donor Gary Segal. Check out the story on the Global News website.

Did you help care for Tesfaye?

Comment below about your memories of the patient and we’ll send your comments to him.


  1. Diana says:

    Congrats Spine Team for all the great work you do for our patients 🙂

    Thanks to Gary and Nancy …we can do the amazing work we do!!!

    Tesfaye….congrats on all your hard work! 🙂

  2. Larissa Noah says:

    WOW! what a beautiful and inspiring story. big thanks to the siloent heroes taking this on.

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