How a Doctor’s Chance Meeting at a Restaurant in Indiana Saved an Ethiopian Girl’s Eye


Derek Sprunger and his wife were eating dinner in a restaurant recommended by a friend when the owner of St. Yared Ethiopian Cuisine and Coffeehouse sat down to talk with the new patrons.

What do you do for a living? Haile Abebe eventually asked Sprunger, as he ate the vegetarian stews and injera, the cuisine’s signature spongy bread.

Pediatric ophthalmologist, Sprunger replied.

Abebe, who just moments before had been chatty and animated, fell silent.

“The look on his face. … It was like he had seen a ghost,” Sprunger recalled.

Abebe’s preschooler niece in Ethiopia had a tumor on her right eye that just kept growing and growing. The unsightly growth prevented the girl from going to school, she could no longer see out of that eye, and her family members feared that without treatment she would eventually lose the eye altogether. The family had seen many doctors in their own country and even a specialist in India, but none could offer any help.

Sprunger said if Abebe would send him the girl’s medical records, he would see what he could do.

From that conversation and many others with experts and officials at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, the Glick Eye Institute and the Midwest Eye Institute, a plan formed. In May, 4-year-old Belul Yitbarek and her mother Helen Solomon traveled from their home in the north of Ethiopia to Indianapolis.

At the end of July, Belul underwent a six-hour, delicate surgery to remove the tumor, an optic glioma.

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SOURCE: Shari Rudavsky
The Indianapolis Star