Renowned Washington novelist helps save woman's life

Renowned Washington novelist helps save woman's life »Play Video
Haimanot Kassaye Weldetsadik

SEATTLE -- The death of 13-year old adoptee Hana Williams outraged communities from Ethiopia to Mount Vernon, where her adoptive parents left her to die malnourished, naked, and cold in her back yard.

"Our whole family was just heartbroken," said Haimanot Kassaye Weldetsadik, Hana's cousin and closest friend who helped raise her in Ethiopia.
 
Hana's cousin is now in Seattle thanks David Guterson, the award-winning author of "Snow Falling On Cedars." The novelist from Bainbridge Island also adopted an Ethiopian daughter and attended the manslaughter trial of Hana's adoptive parents for a book he's writing about Hana.

"When the trial ended, it seemed to me I should go to Ethiopia and find out what I could about Hana's family," he said.

Guterson discovered Hana's 22-year old cousin needed help. She was losing eyesight in one eye and didn't see cars coming and would bump into friends when she walked. Haimanot said the loss of vision frightened her.

The author helped her get medical attention and discovered Haimanot had a benign brain tumor the size of a kiwi.

"This tumor has been there for years slowly growing,"  said Swedish Medical Center Neurosurgeon Dr. Johnny Delashaw. He said if left untreated, Haimanot could go blind or possibly die from it.

Guterson connected with nurses and doctors from Swedish Medical Center who happened to be providing medical training at the main hospital in Addis Abada. The physicians and hospital leaders offered to provide charity care, including free surgery for Haimanot, if Guterson handled her airfare and medical visa.

"It was just a matter of getting her there so that we didn't have have two tragedies. I knew we already had one with Hana. I know that nobody wanted a second one," Guterson said.
 
The author and Haimanot flew together for Tuesday's surgery. Haimanot called Guterson "A Godsend, an angel."

The neurosurgeon said he couldn't remove the entire tumor because it was entwined in nerves, but said the prognosis is good. Guterson says his book on Hana will now include the story of her cousin Haimanot, a name that means faith.

Seattle's Ethiopian community has set up a website ecseattle.org where people can donate to the Hana Fund. The fund will help cover some of Haimanot's expenses during her 6-month stay in Seattle.