Dover doctor helps Ethiopian girl change her life

Newton-Wellesley Hospital anesthesiologist Jim Alpers (left) with Aster Degaro and her father, Derebe, following the girl’s surgery at Cohen Children’s Medical Center.
Newton-Wellesley Hospital anesthesiologist Jim Alpers (left) with Aster Degaro and her father, Derebe, following the girl’s surgery at Cohen Children’s Medical Center.

HELP WITHOUT BORDERS: A Newton-Wellesley Hospital anesthesiologist, Dr. Jim Alpers of Dover has twice traveled to southern Ethiopia on humanitarian medical missions sponsored by Waltham-based Wide Horizons for Children. As part of the medical team, he participated in dozens of operations to remove large, benign goiters that develop due to a depletion of iodized salt in the mountainous Sidama region.

Despite the volume of patients, however, Alpers never forgot Aster Degaro. Then 11 years old, she cried when medical team members were forced to turn her away three years ago because they could not safely remove the nearly 7-pound teratoma, or tumor, from her neck at the clinic.

According to Alpers, the girl was so disfigured that she was shunned, prevented from going to school, and even considered bad luck in her village, Keke, where her father, Derebe, is a subsistence farmer.


The medical colleagues pooled their money so Aster could get a CT scan, and Alpers reassured her during his second trip to Ethiopia, in November 2011, that they were still searching for options to help her.

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After returning to the United States, Alpers presented Aster’s case to the New York-based Little Baby Face Foundation, which arranged for her surgery to be performed at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York this fall. Alpers worked with Wide Horizons for Children — the agency through which he and his wife, Carol Jannetta, adopted their son Dininar from Ethiopia in 2009 — in order to secure passports and visas for Aster and Derebe.

The Alpers — Jim, Carol, 6-year-old Dininar, and 9-year-old Michael — went to New York to visit Aster before and after her seven-hour surgery.

“It is the most dramatic transformation that I’ve seen in my 20 years in medicine,” Alpers said. “There was a real sadness about her before, but then this weight was literally lifted from her. Now she has a million-watt smile that lights up the room.”

Since Aster returned home to Ethiopia, according to Alpers, she has been happily attending school in her village. The experience continues to be a valuable lesson for Dininar and Michael, whose fourth-grade class at Fenn School in Concord recently raised money for Aster’s school by selling rainbow loom bracelets.


“They’ve learned about the basics in life that we take for granted, like access to health care, not judging people based on their physical appearance, and that we all have the ability to positively impact someone’s life,” he said.

For more information, read the doctor’s blog posting at www.faster911.wordpress.com.

DOG TAILS: Beryl Jupiter of Weston has written about a multitude of topics during more than 20 years as a freelance writer for local newspapers. For her first book, she focused on a subject close to home: raising dogs.

“The Puppy Diet: and Other Endearing Family Dog Tails” is a light-hearted look at her personal experiences, as well as those of her friends and family members, including husband Jesse and children Stacy and Benjamin. For example, Jupiter based the title and first chapter on her decision several years ago to channel the tremendous effort of dog training and socialization into a weight-loss program.

Other topics in the 225-page book include dogs as first children, tennis ball obsession, training, grooming, containing (within the home and outside), mealtime, bedtime, pet sitting, dealing with illness and seemingly constant messes, vet visits, and loss — both in terms of a dog’s short life span, but also the comfort that their unconditional love provides during times of struggle.


Jupiter said she believes the universal themes inherent in the benefits and challenges of these beloved pets will resonate widely with dog owners. She weaves insights from her background as a psychologist into the vignettes of dog ownership, many of which take place in Weston and Wellesley.

“I hope people will laugh with me, and maybe cry a little bit, too,” said Jupiter, who has raised six active dogs — so far.

For more information, visit “The Puppy Diet” page on Facebook or www.amazon.com.

AWARD FOR ARTIST: Penny Billings of Lincoln was named the recipient of this year’s Alden Bryan Memorial Award for Traditional Landscape in Oil, announced at the 85th Grand National Online Exhibition of the American Artists Professional League (AAPL) in New York City on Dec. 7.

Her award-winning work, titled “Meditation,” was selected from 160 entries for the organization’s highest award for oil paintings. Her painting was also exhibited at the Boston International Fine Art Show last month.

“It was an honor to receive this award from such a prestigious national art organization, and from among this incredibly talented group of artists,” she said in an e-mail. “I am heartened to observe an increased appreciation throughout the United States for those who both paint in a style of traditional realism and reflect the academic traditions of the early master painters in their contemporary work.”

Billings is represented by Galerie d’Orsay in Boston and Gallery Antonia in Chatham, and displays works online at www.pennybillingsfineart.com.

SOLD: Weston resident Robert Nahigian, a principal at Auburndale Realty Co. in Newton, was one of 34 real estate faculty members nationwide who were presented with CoreNet Global’s 2013 Top-Rated Faculty Award at its recent convention in Las Vegas.

The honor was given for outstanding seminar facilitation and leadership as part of a comprehensive career development program for the corporate real estate industry. Nahigian, who joined the CoreNet faculty in 2012, teaches “The New Era of Logistics and Supply Chain Impacting Real Estate Decisions.”

In May, Nahigian was named the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors National Faculty Real Estate Instructor of the Year for the fifth time. In addition, in 2011 he was honored as the Massachusetts Real Estate Educator of the Year by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, and he was a finalist for this year’s award by the industry group.

People items may be submitted to Cindy Cantrell via e-mail at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.