CURE Ethiopia & Dr. Nunn Awarded Prestigious L’Chaim Prize

Dr. Tim Nunn, Medical Director for CURE Ethiopia, received the prestigious L’Chaim Prize. It will help CURE treat more of Ethiopia’s thousands of children suffering with spinal conditions.

Tens of thousands of Ethiopia’s children are living with scoliosis—and many of them are extreme cases that, without surgical intervention, can be fatal. The country’s hospitals are not equipped to perform these complex surgeries, leaving these children vulnerable to a lifetime of pain, illness, and ridicule.

This is about to change.

As the recipient of the 2022 L’Chaim Prize for Outstanding Christian Medical Missionary Service, Medical Director and orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Timothy Nunn, and the team at CURE Ethiopia, are now poised to launch the first paediatric spinal program in a country of 118 million people. That means more of Ethiopia’s children will receive the life-changing medical care they need.

Text box headed with a large questionmark. The text reads: Scoliosis is a twist or curvature of the spine to the side. The condition can be due to a problem in early development, or to the spinal cord or related conditions. The cause is often unknown and can occur during childhood or adolescence. 
The condition can range from mild to severe. In many cases, worsening scoliosis occurs as the spine grows. In low-to-middle income countries that lack early-intervention strategies, severe cases are more common and can be life-limiting due to failure of lung development.

The annual prize of $500,000 is funded by Mark and Erica Gerson and awarded by African Mission Healthcare, the non-profit they co-founded which strengthens mission hospitals in more than 10 African countries. The award is meant to be a strategic investment in transformational medical projects that change lives–and that’s what CURE is all about.

“This is the place where I have been led”

Dr. Tim completed his medical fellowships in Sheffield, UK, where he worked as a paediatric orthopaedic consultant surgeon. He also practiced in South Africa and Kenya. While he could work almost anywhere in the world, his heart was drawn to serve with CURE after visits to CURE Malawi and CURE Ethiopia. 

“Those were very inspirational visits,” Dr. Tim recalls. “It was clear that gospel proclamation in deed and word were important factors in CURE’s medical mission.”

Dr. Tim joined the hospital staff in 2014. He and his family now consider Ethiopia home. 

“There is a unique history and culture,” he says. “This is the place where I have been led and this is the place where, working with national and international colleagues, we can serve children and their families in need. I am passionate about healing paediatric patients because their treatable disability robs them of an opportunity for a full and productive life.”

In 2022, Dr. Tim felt led to begin the first paediatric spine program at CURE Ethiopia to address a critical need facing children across Ethiopia. Starting a program this significant requires multiple partnerships. Strategic partners at the Tim Tebow Foundation have played a critical role in helping to launch the program. Dr. Rick Hodes, an American doctor who’s been treating patients in Ethiopia for 30+ years, also serves as a partner in the project with his organization, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Outline map of the horn of Africa with Ethiopia a darker green shape. Text over image reads: In Ethiopia there are 2.7 million children living with treatable disabilities, and only 2 orthopaedic surgeons for every 1 million people.
In Ethiopia, there are 2.7 million children living with treatable disabilities, and only 2 orthopaedic surgeons for every 1 million people.

Ethiopia’s first comprehensive paediatric orthopaedic spinal program

The L’Chaim prize will strengthen these partnerships and allow the 70-bed teaching hospital to provide the only surgical spine service for children in the country. 

Perry Jansen, VP of Strategic Health Partnerships at African Mission Healthcare, explains that this is precisely why they selected Dr. Tim as the recipient of the L’Chaim Prize. 

“We look to award the prize to projects that are very strategic and that we hope will catalyse other partners to come alongside and do something that has a big impact,” he says. “This project is about preventing people from a devastating diagnosis by doing early intervention . . . and by preventing people from becoming so debilitated.”  

Perry has seen first-hand how devastating it is when a treatable disability becomes a lifelong or even deadly condition. He recounted meeting a 19-year-old woman with severe scoliosis at Dr. Hodes’ clinic at Ethiopia’s government hospital. She came looking for hope, but because her condition went untreated for so long, surgery was not an option. Instead of treatment, she received news that she had potentially less than 10 years to live.

Perry says, “To me, that reinforced Dr. Nunn and CURE Ethiopia’s strategy for starting with school screenings, casting, and rods that can grow as the kids grow to prevent complications.”

The L’Chaim Prize will help CURE Ethiopia:

  • develop an early intervention program that screens school children for spinal conditions, 
  • sponsor an additional orthopaedic surgeon to support complex spine surgeries,
  • train healthcare workers in surgical and non-invasive spinal therapies, and
  • bring access to life-changing healthcare to thousands of Ethiopian children suffering from spinal deformities living in poverty.

New life for more children with disabilities

For children with disabilities, receiving quality medical and spiritual care does more than just bring physical transformation. It transforms their lives and gives them hope for the future. This program will be life-changing for children like little Ketora.

A small child with her back facing the camera so that the twist in her spine is obivous.
Ketora is one of the many Ethiopian children who will benefit from the generosity of the African Mission Healthcare’s L’Chaim Prize.

She suffers from scoliosis, and her father moved the family to Addis Ababa so she could be treated at CURE. Using a non-invasive approach called Mehta casting, Dr. Tim and his team will re-apply a hard cast every six weeks to gradually straighten her spine over time. When she is seven years old, Dr. Tim expects that she will undergo surgery that will keep her spine straight as she grows.

To treat Ketora’s scoliosis, Dr. Tim and a team of surgeons are using a progressive casting approach, which will be followed by surgery, to give her a chance to live a full and productive life.

While she stays at CURE Ethiopia, Ketora enjoys making new friends on the playground, and her worried father has received prayer and support from CURE’s spiritual ministry team. 

A child wearing a body cast to hold her spine in place.
Ketora’s cast will encourage her spina to begin to straighten out. After a few years, CURE Ethiopia will perform surgery to insert a growth rod that will keep her spine straight as she matures.

Ketora’s father says, “I don’t know what I would have done if treatment had not been free.” Dr. Tim knows all too well what can happen if Ketora doesn’t receive the medical care she needs. He says, “If left without treatment, Ketora’s scoliosis would become so severe that it would badly affect her breathing and possibly her heart. Once this occurs, the surgery to straighten the spine has a very high risk of severe complications such as death and paralysis. With early interventions such as casting, bracing, and surgical growing rods, we hope to help many like Ketora to avoid such a fate.”

Ketora and her dad at a recent visit to CURE to monitor her casting. By expanding our paediatric orthopaedic spinal program, CURE Ethiopia will treat thousands more children like Ketora.

L’Chaim is translated as “to life,” fitting as this award will help CURE Ethiopia reach even more children with the world-class medical care they need to live life to the full.

Dr. Tim expresses the gratitude of everyone at CURE as he says, “Thank you to African Mission Healthcare for helping to fill this immense need and to the supporters of CURE International for providing these life-changing medical services.”

[This article was originally posted on the CURE International website on Monday 24th July 2023]

Photo of the Melissa Hall

About the Author:

Melissa joined CURE UK in June 2021, heading up Marketing, Communications, and Events. On her visit to CURE Children's Hospital of Zimbabwe in September 2022 she experienced the people and the environment that makes a CURE hospital so special! She makes every effort to communicate this to readers everywhere.