February 2004 Bulletin

Oheneba Boachie-Adjei, MD, to receive 2004 Humanitarian Award

By Carolyn Rogers

Oheneba Boachie-Adjei, MD
2004 Humanitarian
Award Recipient
The value of service to others and loyalty to one’s homeland was instilled in Oheneba Boachie-Adjei, MD, at a very young age. As an eight-year-old in the city of Kumasi, Ghana, Boachi-Adjei nearly died from a severe gastric illness. When the herbal remedy prescribed by a local healer did little to help, extreme dehydration began to take its toll on the young boy, who grew weaker by the day.

“People were dying next to me,” Dr. Boachie-Adjei says. “I was lucky to have a pediatrician who decided to come home.”

Inspired to help others
The experience inspired young Boachie-Adjei to pursue medicine as a career and also served as a reminder to keep his “mother country” close to his heart. Today, nearly 45 years later, Dr. Boachie-Adjei is not only a renowned reconstructive spine surgeon, he is founder of the Foundation of Orthopedics and Complex Spine (FOCOS)—a nonprofit organization that has provided orthopaedic and spine care to thousands of underserved people in Ghana and Barbados.

In recognition of the positive impact his many humanitarian efforts have had on the lives and musculoskeletal health of countless people, Dr. Boachie-Adjei is the recipient of the Academy’s fifth annual Humanitarian Award. This honor, along with a $5,000 donation to FOCOS, will be presented to Dr. Boachie-Adjei at the March 10 opening ceremonies of the 2004 Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

The American dream
The son of a deposed Ashanti chieftain who worked as a farmer to support his wife, eight children and dozens of relatives, Dr. Boachie-Adjei says he was “born a prince but grew up a pauper.”

At the age of 21, he immigrated to the United States with just $12 in his pocket. Upon his arrival in New York City, he found a minimum-wage factory job as a machinist and soon enrolled at Brooklyn College.
“I came to the U.S.A. with the hope of testing the waters,” Dr. Boachie-Adjei says. “I believed in what I had read and heard much about: the American dream.”

As an aspiring student, he attended day and night classes and worked as a tutor to supplement his grants and loans. In 1976, he graduated summa cum laude with a degree in chemistry, then earned his medical degree from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. He completed his orthopaedic residency at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) and went on to pursue advanced training in scoliosis at the University of Minnesota. In 1994, he returned to HSS as chief of the scoliosis service.

Dream comes into FOCOS
By the mid-1990s, with his orthopaedic career well-established, Dr. Boachie-Adjei dedicated himself to establishing a foundation to provide orthopaedic and spine care to people in Ghana and other developing nations, who are unable to receive adequate medical care. With $100,000 of his own money, Dr. Boachie-Adjei launched FOCOS in 1998.

“FOCOS was a dream come true for me and for countless others who suffer from spine and orthopaedic afflictions in Ghana,” he says. In 1999, he expanded the Foundation’s efforts to include Barbados, and is now working to extend its services to East Africa.

Since 1998, Dr. Boachie-Adjei has led more than a dozen teams of orthopaedic surgeons and ancillary personnel to Ghana and Barbados to counsel patients, perform orthopaedic surgical procedures, and train local surgeons in orthopaedic techniques.

The mission
The Foundation’s primary mission is to enhance developing nations’ access to optimal surgical and nonsurgical care of disabling bone and joint disorders, including pediatric orthopaedic problems and complex spine deformities.

All surgery is provided for free or at a nominal cost to cover hospital expenses; there is never a charge for physicians’ services or for any services or products provided by FOCOS. The Foundation’s Web site can be found at www.orthofocos.org.

Offering hope, higher self esteem
Services provided by FOCOS not only offer huge cost savings to the local governments, they give people “the intangibles of hope and higher self esteem,” Dr. Boachie-Adjei says. “Many patients have resumed gainful employment following treatment through FOCOS auspices, and children have resumed academic and unrestricted recreational activities.”

In its six years, a variety of volunteer professionals have joined the FOCOS clinical mission, including surgeons, nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, prosthetists and orthotists, as well as a neurophysiologist, an anesthesiologist and a physiatrist.

“It is the leadership of Dr. Boachie-Adjei that has motivated other people like me to try to make a difference in the lives of people in Ghana and Barbados,” says Bettye Wright, a physician assistant who first joined Dr. Boachie-Adjei on a trip to Ghana in 1997. “We always work very long hours, but at that the conclusion of each trip, when we are exhausted and boarding our flights home, the same question is asked. ‘When is the next trip?’”

With an ever-increasing stream of patients, both new and follow-up, being seen in its outpatient clinics, FOCOS is backlogged with surgical candidates for its two-week trips, which typically take place every six months.

Permanent clinic opens in Ghana
A permanent infrastructure for FOCOS outpatient clinic activities in Ghana recently opened in Accra, Ghana. Full-time ancillary personnel and part-time orthopaedic support at the clinic will provide continuity of care for FOCOS patients.

The clinic is due, in large part, to a generous donation from one of Dr. Boachie-Adjei’s private patients. With this seed money in place, other donors added to the fund and soon the FOCOS clinic became a reality.

“Dr. Boachie-Adjei’s vision is truly staggering,” says Marc A. Asher, MD, a spine surgeon at the University of Kansas Medical Center. “In spite of all his accomplishments, he exudes spirituality and is truly a humble human being.”
Dr. Boachie-Adjei “gives of himself and he energizes those around him,” says Thomas P. Sculco, MD, surgeon-in-chief at HSS in New York. “He is charismatic and effective, but most of all, he is dedicated to helping his native people find a better life.”

Life has “a purpose and a reason”
On May 29, 2003, Brooklyn College honored Dr. Boachie-Adjei for his academic work and philanthropic activities with the Distinguished Alumnus Award, and requested that he deliver the commencement speech to the 2003 graduating class.

At his own graduation in 1976, Dr. Boachie-Adjei was a married graduate with a baby. “Renting a cap and gown was a luxury I could not afford,” he says. It was, therefore, “quite an irony” to be the focus of an event he regretted missing 27 years earlier.

In his address, Dr. Boachie-Adjei challenged the graduates to become productive members of society by being “determined, resourceful and persistent,” and by taking charge of their own affairs. These qualities had contributed to his confidence and buoyed his will to succeed, he emphasized.
“Remember that wherever life may lead you,” he told the crowd, “there is a purpose and a reason.”

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