Prudence Mabhena’s life has been very eventful lately, and we wanted to give you an update on all the big happenings.

Prudence performing in Telluride for Mountainfilm 2010

At Mountainfilm 2010 Prudence performed after packed screenings of Roger Williams’ film about her life, Music By Prudence.

In November, we received a secret email from Dr. Rick Hodes which we can share with you now. Rick won the Moving Mountains Prize in 2009 for the film Making the Crooked Straight about his work in Ethiopia helping children with severe spinal deformities.

Prudence with festival director David Holbrooke

Here’s the note from Rick to Mountainfilm dated November 5, 2010:


“I want to let you in on a working plan/secret, since you are somehow a key part of the picture, whether you know it or not.

“First Sue Cohn Rockefeller made Making the Crooked Straight about my work in Ethiopia which was shown at Mountainfilm-2009 and given the
Moving Mountains Prize. That money went to Mieraf.

“While Sue’s film was entered into the Oscar route, it did not make it very far. On the other hand, Music by Prudence actually made it to the

“Second, I returned to Mountainfilm-2010 to be a judge for the prize and to bring Mieraf to thank everyone for helping save her life. Mountainfilm was showing Music by Prudence, and I met Prudence. Being a doctor first, I saw that she had a bad back, and started working to get her spine surgery. Without surgery, her spine would collapse and she would be unable to breathe. After our morning conference closed, I had my son guard the door, and I examined Prudence and took the appropriate photos.

Dr. Rick Hodes at the Palm Theater

“I managed to get a promise of surgery in Ghana by Dr. Boachie. This was tentatively arranged for November. However, due to lack of working operating rooms at the time, that was put on hold.

“Enter Noel Cunningham, owner of Strings Restaurant in Denver. Super place. Noel somehow decided he likes my work and wants to have a
1000-person dinner/fundraiser for me on 13 January. You can read about this:

“Now for some background, and the confidential info:

“Earlier this year, I had Akewak,  a 12 year old boy come to me with a bad back. On further exam, I found that he had undergone disastrous
heart surgery in Ethiopia 7 years ago, and nobody – neither the surgeon nor the cardiologist – had ever realized that they cut the wrong blood vessel. Akewak would die by the time he was 20 without very complex  corrective surgery.

“Now, I had met several prominent Denver docs via Noel Cunningham. I called on them, and Akewak was operated on successfully (and for free!) in Denver in June, then had spine surgery a few months later. He’s now back in Ethiopia, and doing great.

“Once Prudence’s surgery was put on hold in Ghana, I called my contacts in Denver. They worked on the possibility of Prudence having corrective spine surgery in Denver.

“At Noel’s Dinner of Unconditional Love, the secret guest will be Prudence. After playing some of her music, at some point the lights will go down, and after 30 seconds of complete blackness, Amazing Grace will be played. Then the lights will come on, and it will be Prudence onstage sing. Later on, they’ll make the announcement that Prudence will have spine surgery at Children’s Hospital in Denver.

Prudence onstage in Denver

“First of all, you should know about this. Mountainfilm is what introduced us all. Second, we’d like you to come to the dinner if you are able to. Third, if you know any other Friends of Mountainfilm who might be interested, please invite them.

“Just think – if Sue had won the Oscar, then this would never be taking place.

“Many thanks, Rick”


A standing ovation for Prudence Mabhena

Recently, we received an update from Rick about the event which did indeed take place on January 13:


“Dinner went fantastically. They got about 940 people, a great variety of people, including clergy from Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faiths. I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Humanitarian Medicine by Regis University’s president, Father Mike Sheeran.

“At the end of my talk about my life, my family, and my patients (after all, they’re all intertwined), I said “Now I want to tell you about Prudence.” I told her story, then showed a film clip of the film. At the end of the clip, all the lights went completely black for about 15 seconds. Then Prudence’s voice came out, blasting out Amazing Grace. Then a single spotlight shined on the stage, and she was there in a sequined dress, in her motorized wheelchair. People were amazed, they cried, they loved it. As you say, it was great theatre. She gave a brief speech.”


And now for the biggest news: Just two days ago, Prudence had major spine surgery at The Children’s Hospital in Denver, performed by Dr. Mark Erickson. They inserted rods and were able to obtain a significant corrected in her spine. Rick reports that she was sedated for about a day and is now out of the ICU and slowly starting her long recovery.