In between, he prayed.
Last month, his prayers were answered when the toddler was brought to Cincinnati from her native Ethiopia for the complicated surgery that saved her life. It was largely the generosity of the local community - particularly one tiny Covington church - that made it all happen.
The 50-member West Covington Baptist Church launched a campaign last winter to bring 3-year-old Kalkidan to Cincinnati after learning she was dying of Hirschsprung's disease, a defect which shuts down much of the colon. Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center operates the world's only center specializing in the treatment of pediatric colo-rectal problems like Hirschsprung's.
After learning of the little girl's plight, the hospital agreed to perform her surgery at no cost. But her father - an evangelist earning about $50 a month - still needed visas and more than $7,000 to make the trans-Atlantic trip.
The local community responded to that call.
After stories in The Kentucky Post earlier this summer, thousands of donated dollars and services poured in to West Covington Baptist Church, which brought Kalkidan and her father to Cincinnati in early July for surgery July 14. Two weeks later, Kalkidan - who her father said once rarely cracked a smile - giggled constantly as she played with stuffed animals at the Ronald McDonald House in Avondale, where she and her father are staying.
The 29-year-old father spoke softly in his native Amharic of his daughter's transformation. Translator Hareg Fissehaye relayed his words in English.
"She used to hate me, I think, because I always had to do the enemas. And mostly she didn't smile much before the surgery," he said. "But now she's very happy and laughing. My wife and me were always expecting this laughing, but I've never seen this laughing until now. ... Now we have more fun together, and she tells me she loves me and that she will share with me always whatever she has.
"It's very hard to explain what has happened to us. First, we were in the dark, and now we are in the light. I can't believe we are here. We are very, very happy." Kalkidan's doctor here, Colo-rectal Center Associate Director Dr. Marc Levitt, said Kalkidan is receiving approximately $40,000 in free medical services. He said Children's Hospital agreed to donate its services because her case was ideally suited to the hospital's mission.
"The hospital recognizes that this center can take care of things like this that can't be (treated) anywhere else in the world," Levitt said. "This was an ideal case because it was complicated ... and we felt it was unique enough that we could really help her. There was really nowhere else for this little girl to turn."
Levitt said the 8-hour surgery removed the dysfunctional part of Kalkidan's colon and connected her remaining healthy colon to her anus, allowing her to have normal bowel function. Levitt said Kalkidan is thriving since the operation, but she will remain in the country another month to ensure there are no complications.
"She is a very special little girl - tough and very bright. ... And her father is a unique individual who has really gotten into the nitty-gritty of taking care of her. ... He has saved her life ... to get her here. So I thanked him and the (West Covington Baptist Church) congregation that pulled this off," Levitt said. "He said he was just observing God's work. I told him, 'It's your job to point out to us what is God's work.' ... And it truly is God's work because they made a miracle occur here."
More miracles may be needed as Kalkidan heads home to a place with very little food and even less medical care. Tessema's eyes well up as he speaks of his fears for his only child's future. He whispers that he would much rather leave her with a family here than put her in harm's way again, although he knows the Ethiopian government has mandated they must both return soon.
"But, myself and my wife, we have huge questions on her future. We have no hospital, no labs, no X-rays. There is no doctor. I am worried. ... My main fear is she will not get enough food or the medicine she needs. I know what it is like in the place we live, and we cannot afford to live in a better place like Addis Ababa (Ethiopia's capital). ... So I am fearful."
But the church community that pulled off Kalkidan's small miracle is not about to abandon her or her worried father now.
The missionaries and West Covington Baptist are mulling ideas about helping the family by possibly establishing a trust and devising a plan should she need medical care in Ethiopia.
"I think he (Tessema) is scared to death that she will go back to the way she was before ... and he did talk to us about the possibility of leaving her here with us," said Wilson. "As complimented as I am by that, I don't feel God is leading us in that direction. I think the doctors feel she can go back and lead a perfectly normal life in her country. And I think she will grow up to do great things in her country, too."
excerpted from the Cincinnati Post 08/07/2006