In 2005, a 12 year-old Ethiopian farm boy named Temesgen Gamacho became ill. When a large tumor began to grow near his knee, his mother sold their animals for $200 and made the 12-hour journey with her son to search for medical care in Addis Ababa.
Once in Addis, Temesgen’s leg was amputated.
Unfortunately, his cancer returned and there were no more options for treatment in Ethiopia.
A chance encounter in Addis with an American couple, Mary Louise and Bruce Cohen, brought him to the United States, where he was treated by Dr. Aziza Shad, who was then Chief of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Georgetown University Hospital.
At the same time, Dr. Shad was treating another young Ethiopian child, Eyoel Fanta, who came to her in an advanced stage of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, one of the most curable cancers in children. Born to a family from Addis, Eyoel became ill during his infancy and sought treatment there. With no trained pediatric cancer physicians in the country and no access to the required medications, however, his cancer quickly progressed.
Neither Temesgen nor Eyoel survived their illness, but their legacy does.
In their honor, in 2010, Dr. Shad and Mary Louise Cohen assembled a committed group of world-class pediatric cancer specialists to begin working with the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health, Addis Ababa University, and Tikur Anbessa Specialized Hospital in Addis Ababa. Their goal was to design the first-ever program to improve pediatric cancer treatment within the country, with the long-term objective of improving survival rates for children and adolescents with curable cancers using inexpensive generic drugs, standard treatment guidelines, and supportive care regimens adapted for the low-income setting.
Dr. Shad and Ms. Cohen then formed The Aslan Project in 2012, bringing together a diverse group of volunteer medical experts, parents, and advocates to champion the cause of pediatric and adolescent cancer care in low-income countries.