An Ethiopian doctor in Chicago performs life saving diagnosis

By Sylvia Perez and Christine Tressel | ABC News

Rahel Taye has a smile as big as her appetite. But a year ago her life now would be hard to imagine.

The 26-year-old from Ethiopia had been battling mysterious, crippling pains in her abdomen for months.

“Really, really bad, bad pain,” said Taye.

She was in and out of hospitals. No one had an answer for her but her health kept deteriorating.

She finally ended up at the emergency room of a prominent Chicago hospital where she says doctors delivered the devastating news: that she probably had ovarian cancer.

“The doctor told me she had two months to live,” said Solomon Melesse, Taye’s husband.

She was advised to have surgery which meant she might never have children. Rahel and her husband were stunned and in disbelief.

“I know they are wrong. I feel it,” said Taye.

Rahel trusted her instincts and was recommended to Ermias Tilahun, a specialist in internal medicine at Swedish Covenant Hospital. It was April of 2007. By then, Rahel was in very bad shape.

“She was less than 80 pounds when I saw her,” said Dr. Tilahun.

Like Rahel, Dr. Tilahun wasn’t convinced it was cancer. He had a hunch as a result of working with other immigrants and being Ethiopian himself.

At the time, Rahel was only 26, a very young age for ovarian cancer.

He ran several tests and then he discovered some white looking nodules all over the inside of her abdomen. That led him to suspect something no one else had; tuberculosis.

“After listening to their story, she migrated from Ethopia,” said Dr. Tilahun. “The probability for TB goes up.”

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium. It primarily attacks the lungs but doctors say the disease can affect other organs and tissues. That’s apparently what happened to Rahel. She was diagnosed with peritoneal TB, an unusual infection that some doctors may not know can mimic ovarian cancer.

Rahel was started on anti-TB medications. Within two weeks, they say she was eating and smiling. Since then the couple hasn’t looked back.

“Now we can have a family and live to have a family and kids,” said Rahel.

Dr. Tilahun says Rahel’s case is a perfect example of why U.S. doctors need to start looking beyond America’s borders in diagnosing illnesses.

As more people travel, different forms of disease are making their way to this country. TB is just one of them. In this case, a late diagnosis almost cost Rahel her life.

“If we didn’t consider TB for her she would not be around,” said Dr. Tilahun.

Rahel is now going to school and planning to have a family.

And even though it’s been more than year and half, the gravity of her ordeal is still overwhelming.

Dr. Tilahun says Rahel’s form of TB was not highly contagious. He is not sure how she got it but suspects she may have picked up the bacterium after drinking raw milk.

He also says that if he had used the gold standard test for TB which takes about four weeks, Rahel probably would have been dead. Dr. Tilahun says instead he used a test not well know here in the U.S. which got him results within a couple days.

For more information:
Dr. Ermias Tilahun
Swedish Covenant Hospital, Internal Medicine
2740 W. Foster Ave., Chicago, IL

16 Responses to “An Ethiopian doctor in Chicago performs life saving diagnosis”

  1. 1 DR.MERJAN OUSE Jun 11th, 2009 at 3:18 am

    Dr.Tilahun did an amazing and life saving diagnosis due to the fact that it is very uncommon to find TB in such organs like ovary though TB has no respect for any organ.The truth of the fact is that he capable of predicting the unpredictale in the most unpredictabl setup that is in USA.This therefore,a great lesson for all us and DR.TILAHUN deserves admiration and appreciations!


  2. 2 nuri Jul 15th, 2009 at 11:50 am

    hi…..! i really appreciate you!!!!!!!

  3. 3 Dr. Hassan Dec 12th, 2009 at 3:29 am

    Dr.Tilahun this is an amazing and thank you for what you have done!

  4. 4 teshale Jan 1st, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    i need make an appointment with you so can you give me a day

  5. 5 des Jan 10th, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    there are more Ethiopian doctors in Chicago than there are in Ethiopia.

  6. 6 HAbtamu yeshidinber May 8th, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    You did a great job. I really appreciate your wonderful work.

  7. 7 Saba Hadgu Jun 4th, 2010 at 2:37 am

    May God bless you for saving our sister, and I am glad to have such a professional person like you.

  8. 8 Dawite Gebreyohanis Jan 14th, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Dr. Tilahun deserves appreciation for his great medical skill and for his success to save the life of our dear sister. If he were following what the TB GOLD standardized testing procedure, she would die. Sometimes it is very important to go beyond some rules but not the whole lot. SO, Dr. keep your hard work as always. I thank you.

  9. 9 rahhyt Jun 10th, 2011 at 3:44 am

    A person like u gives us some courage. keep it up!!!

  10. 10 biniyam ayalew Aug 27th, 2011 at 5:46 am

    good Dr.i love yr attitude!

  11. 11 mmatri Oct 3rd, 2011 at 5:45 am

    that is really wonderfull thing to do. but you know here in ethipia she may not be this late to be diagnosed of course it would be hard to confirm the diagnosis bt she would have been started on ant tb one of the professors at med school used to say “if you are in dilemma think of tuberculosis” of courese this works in ethiopia mainly

  12. 12 tadele Dec 8th, 2011 at 10:56 am

    what a critical thinking that health professionals must follow to do right diagnosis possible not neglecting rare cases .Thank u dr tilahun & keep it up.!!!

  13. 13 haile Feb 10th, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    Each year, tuberculosis (TB) results in the death of 3 million people globally. In 2000-2020, an estimated 1 billion people will be infected, 200 million people will become sick, and 35 million will die from TB, if control is not strengthened.
    congratulations Dr. erimias
    surprisingly tuberculosis is one of the most common and fatal diseaeses in the subsaharan africa including ethiopia so Dr pleae come back home and help your people
    wish you all the best

  14. 14 Betty Mar 1st, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    This guy, being out of his country, still saved an ethiopian’s life. I hope i get to be that good a doctor someday.

  15. 15 Mitiku Mar 18th, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Keep it up.

  16. 16 Mitiku Mar 18th, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Keep it up!

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