This Is a Soul: An American Doctor's Remarkable Mission in Ethiopia


"Whoever Saves a Life, It Is Considered as If He Saved an Entire World"

Dr. Rick Hodes arrived in Africa more than two decades ago to help the victims of a famine, but he never expected to call this extremely poor continent his home. Twenty-eight years later, he is still there.

This Is a Soul tells the remarkable story of Rick Hodes's journey from suburban America to Mother Teresa's clinic in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As a boy, Rick was devoted to helping those in need, and ...

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This is a Soul: The Mission of Rick Hodes

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"Whoever Saves a Life, It Is Considered as If He Saved an Entire World"

Dr. Rick Hodes arrived in Africa more than two decades ago to help the victims of a famine, but he never expected to call this extremely poor continent his home. Twenty-eight years later, he is still there.

This Is a Soul tells the remarkable story of Rick Hodes's journey from suburban America to Mother Teresa's clinic in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As a boy, Rick was devoted to helping those in need, and eventually he determined that becoming a doctor would allow him to do the most good. When he heard about famine in Africa, that's where he went, and when genocide convulsed Rwanda, he went into the refugee camps to minister to the victims. When he was told that Ethiopia was allowing its Jews to emigrate to Israel, he went to help. While there, he was drawn to Mother Teresa's mission in Addis Ababa. It was there that Rick found his calling when he began caring for the sickest children in one of the world's poorest countries. But he did more than that—he began taking them into his home and officially adopted five of them.

This Is a Soul is also a book filled with great joy and triumph. When Rick's kids return from surgery or life-saving treatments, he is exultant. "Seeing these people after surgery is like going to heaven," he says.

Marilyn Berger went to Africa to write about Dr. Hodes, but while there, she became involved with the story. When she came upon a small, deformed, and malnourished boy begging on the street, she recognized immediately that he had the exact disease Rick could cure. She took him to Rick, who eventually arranged for the boy to have a complicated and risky surgery, which turned out to be incredibly successful. The boy's story—intertwined with Rick's, and Marilyn's as well—is unforgettable in its pathos and subtle humor.

This Is a Soul is not just a story of the savior and the saved, it is a celebration of love and wisdom, and an exploration of how charity and devotion can actually change lives in an overcrowded, unjust, and often harsh world.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061759550
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/12/2011
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 782,701
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Marilyn Berger is a contributing writer to the New York Times. She was previously a diplomatic correspondent for Newsday and the Washington Post, and was the United Nations correspondent for ABC News and the White House correspondent for NBC News. She was the moderator on the public affairs program The Advocates and anchored WNET's City Edition. She was the director of programs and public affairs for the Council on Foreign Relations. Her articles have been published in the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and New York magazine.

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Table of Contents

1 This Is a Soul 1

2 A Normal Doctor? 19

3 To Save a Single Soul 43

4 An Act of Kindness 63

5 One Good Deed Leads to Another 97

6 I'll Take the Kids 115

7 My Son Has Been Reborn 135

8 If I Had a Hammer 149

9 Everybody Goes to Rick's Place 167

10 No Use Taking a Picture of a Skeleton 205

11 I'm Here and They're Not 219

12 My Lucky Day 241

Epilogue 261

Acknowledgments 267

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Interviews & Essays

The Story Behind the Story of
This is a Soul
by Marilyn Berger

I had never had any intention of writing a book, any book -- until I met Rick Hodes.

It all started when my college roommate asked me to join her for lunch. She had just been to Ethiopia where she had met an extraordinary person who had dedicated his life to the care of grievously sick children and adults who no one else would try to save. She asked if I knew anyone who would write about him. As if in an involuntary response, my right hand shot up.

Immediately, I saw the story of a selfless man, an American doctor who had given up what would have been a prosperous life in the New York suburb where he grew up and devoted his entire being to taking care of the sickest of the sick in one of the world's poorest countries. Not only did he minister to the sick but he took many of them into his own house--and officially adopted five sons.

Not many months later, I was on a plane to Addis Ababa. I arrived at 4:00 am and hoped to sleep the next morning. But I found a note under my hotel door. It was from Rick. "At 9:00 am, I'm picking up eight patients at the airport who are returning from surgery in Gondar," it said. "Do you want to come?"

No reporter could turn that down, so I dragged myself into the hotel lobby where he had suggested he meet me. Our first meeting was promising – he was relaxed, funny and full of updates about his kids. When we got to the airport, he said something that let me know instantly what kind of person I was dealing with: "Seeing these people after surgery is like going to heaven." His heart sings and his spirit is literally lifted when he succeeds in helping someone.

That was the beginning of many long days I spent following the footsteps of Dr. Rick Hodes as he saw patients at Mother Teresa's clinic, gave them money to survive (the only doctor who pays his patients), and arranged for them to travel to other countries where they received life-saving surgery and other forms of medical care. I also spent time at his home in Addis that is crowded with the many children he has taken in, fifteen in addition to the five he adopted. I also got to see how he finds ways of giving hope to people who live with the fear they will die soon.

With all of that, there is nothing sanctimonious about the man. He is good company, iconoclastic, a practical joker; he's an Orthodox Jew who leads everyone in singing "If I Had a Hammer" at his Friday evening Sabbath celebrations and works on Saturday because saving a life is more important than adhering to ritual...

I am an old school reporter who spent many years covering foreign affairs at The Washington Post, and later I wrote lengthy biographies of the world's eminent men and women – for example Ronald Reagan and Boris Yeltsin -- which became obituaries for The New York Times. I was trained never to let my emotions or my prejudices impinge on my reporting and never to get involved. But this particular biography set me on a new trajectory. I got involved, and so deeply that my life was transformed by the story I was writing. While I was in Addis Ababa doing the reporting for this book, I was walking down one of the city's main streets, where I came upon a small boy with long dusty eyelashes, crouched in the middle of the sidewalk. His hand was held up for any coins that might come his way. He looked to be about four years old, and his back was humped out like a pyramid, a sign that he had TB of the spine, precisely the problem Rick treats and cures. I couldn't wait to tell Rick about the boy, and together he and I set out to find the child. Within a few hours, he was in Rick's clinic. The boy told us his name is Danny.

Rick examined him, turned to me and said, "Marilyn, you've just saved a life." I was nearing the end of my reporting and soon went home while Rick found a bed for Danny in the Mother Teresa clinic and went about saving his life with medications for the tuberculosis. Rick became as taken with his new young patient as I was. Now and then, he would invite Danny to his home, and eventually the boy began to living with Rick and other kids there. Within a few months, when Danny was cured of disease, Rick sent him for surgery to correct the deformity in his back that threatened his life.

It is said that once you save a life, you're responsible for it. And, at long last, I was ready for it. For much of my life -- and partly because I had to travel so much for my work -- I was a person who wouldn't even have a plant in the house because it required too much of my attention. But now I heard myself asking Rick if he might bring Danny to New York so that he could learn a little English while he recovered from his operation.

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