Every morning when Syosset native Dr. Rick Hodes wakes, he reaches over and switches on the lamp. If he's lucky, the light will go on. Maybe there will be running water that day, too.

Hodes lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, where despite the unreliable availability of electricity and running water, he uses his medical skills to help heal children with disfiguring and often lethal diseases.

A documentary about Hodes' work, "Making the Crooked Straight," is to be aired Wednesday night at 8 on HBO2.

Diseases easily treated in developed countries ravage young bodies in Ethiopia - such as spinal tuberculosis, which deforms the back into a hump.

"There's only 2,000 doctors, and there's lots of people who really need medical care," Hodes said Tuesday.

Hodes treats patients with cancer and serious heart and spine diseases. He works for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which funds his practice, and also spends time working at a Catholic mission.

After graduating from Syosset High School in 1971, he studied geography at Middlebury College in Vermont. He spent time in Alaska before attending the University of Rochester Medical School, then went to Johns Hopkins University for training in internal medicine.

"I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life at all," he said. "Somehow I knew I wanted to do international health."

Hodes went to Ethiopia as a doctor during the famine of the 1980s, and went back after applying for a Fulbright Fellowship to teach somewhere in Africa.

He's been there for 20 years and adopted five Ethiopian children, who now range in age from 14 to 22. "That was also unexpected," he said. "And now quite wonderful."

While he gets money from his employer to maintain his practice, he still must raise funds from outside sources to buy medicine to treat his patients.

Hodes said he hopes the 30-minute documentary, as well as a book - "This is a Soul," written by Marilyn Berger, a Newsday reporter in the 1960s, and released this month - will help bring more public awareness of his work, and of the Ethiopian people.

"I want people to understand the challenges that we're working under," Hodes said. "How we can help a lot of people with very little money. And the dignity and respect that Ethiopians live with."

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