Sisay Gudeta walks to class after other kids have cleared the courtyard in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 2013. He said he is afraid of being knocked over by kids playing and falling on his back.
Sisay's cheek is pinched by another spine patient while posing for an iPhone-lit portrait.
Sisay Gudeta, then age 7, sits on his bed at his home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 2013. At the time, his spine curved about 120 degrees. Without surgery, Sisay's scoliosis would have killed him before age 18, doctors said.
Sisay tries to keep other kids from touching him while students play during a break in class in May 2013.
Sisay hits a balloon toward his sister, Tseget, at their home in May 2013. Sisay hardly leaves his neighborhood except for school, which is a 10-minute walk.
Dr. Rick Hodes examines Sisay Gudeta for the first time in 2013. The American doctor sees about 200 scoliosis patients each year at the only spine clinic in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Abonesh, Sisay's mother, hugs him before he sleeps in the bed that they share. He would be away from her for six months when Dr. Hodes sends him to Accra, Ghana, to receive the life-saving treatment and surgery he needs.
Sisay performs physical therapy at the FOCOS hospital in Accra, Ghana, almost 4,000 miles from home. Every three months, the American spine doctor Hodes sends about a dozen patients from Ethiopia to Ghana, where Dr. Oheneba Boachie-Adjei examines them and sometimes fixes their backs.
Sisay's back under lights just before surgery, where Boachie-Adjei and his team inserted screws into many of Sisay's vertebrae and attached growing rods to his spine to help straighten and lengthen it in Accra, Ghana.
Boachie-Adjei speaks with Sisay at FOCOS hospital while he is still in traction. The halo contraption stretches out Sisay's back so there's enough space for his spine once it's straightened.
Sisay walks for the first time, two days after surgery.
Medical workers help Sisay out of bed four days after surgery, when he was still afraid of hurting himself by sitting up in the wrong way.
Still less than a week after his own spine surgery, Sisay comforts another patient who is about to have a similar procedure.
Sisay laughs with other recovering spine patients during physical therapy.
Sisay waits in a hallway for a post-operation X-ray.
Sisay, now age 8, walks to physical therapy and greets other patients at the spine hospital. He says the spinal problems don't make him angry. He just wants his back to heal.