FC Dallas Soccer Player Atiba Harris Visits Ethiopian Twins with Severe Scoliosis in a Hospital
Markos Bogale paced anxiously between his walker and a gray chair Friday afternoon inside a room at Medical Center of Plano. Nearby was his bedridden twin brother, Tamirat.
Soon, the source of their anxiety appeared. Both brothers smiled as FC Dallas soccer player Atiba Harris entered the room and handed them each a shiny Christmas gift bag with a personalized FC Dallas jersey and a pair of sandals from St. Kitts, the country where Harris grew up.
"I'm so happy," Markos said as he fist-pumped Harris.
The 16-year-old Ethiopian soccer fans hugged the jerseys as they traded high-fives and hugs with Harris, 31. The teenagers will spend the next few months in North Texas recovering from several surgeries to treat their severe cases of scoliosis.
The boys traveled alone from their home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Plano in early December after meeting their doctor, Ted Belanger, in May during his annual trip to the country. Belanger performs back surgeries in Ethiopia, but sometimes gets permission to have certain patients come to Plano for the procedure when the probability of surviving the surgery in their native country is slim.
Scoliosis forces a person's spine into a sideways curve, usually in the shape of an "S" or a "C." Depending on the severity, the condition can be treated with either a brace or surgery. A severe case of scoliosis can interfere with breathing if left untreated.
"It's a social stigma in Ethiopia and it affects people's outlook on whether they are going to be married and have a family," Belanger said. "Their belief is I won't be able to get married or have a family because I have this deformity and that's really depressing. The surgery is transformative."
Cheryl Zapata, a chief development officer at the Texas Back Institute, works with Belanger. She said the boys will recover from their surgeries at her home before returning to Ethiopia in early 2017. Zapata said the brothers will be alone during their stay in the U.S. because their father — their mother's whereabouts are unknown — was unable to get a visa to come with them.