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An Ethiopian doctor in Chicago performs life saving diagnosis

One doctor says a life saving diagnosis is also wake up call for Americans to start thinking globally when it comes to illness.

Rahel Taye has a smile as big as her appetite. But a year ago her life now would be hard to imagine. The 26-year-old from Ethiopia had been battling mysterious, crippling pains in her abdomen for months. "Really, really bad, bad pain," said Taye. She was in and out of hospitals. No one had an answer for her but her health kept deteriorating. She finally ended up at the emergency room of a prominent Chicago hospital where she says doctors delivered the devastating news: that she probably had ovarian cancer. "The doctor told me she had two months to live," said Solomon Melesse, Taye's husband. She was advised to have surgery which meant she might never have children. Rahel and her husband were stunned and in disbelief. "I know they are wrong. I feel it," said Taye. Rahel trusted her instincts and was recommended to Ermias Tilahun, a specialist in internal medicine at Swedish Covenant Hospital. It was April of 2007. By then, Rahel was in very bad shape. "She was less than 80 pounds when I saw her," said Dr. Tilahun.

Like Rahel, Dr. Tilahun wasn't convinced it was cancer. He had a hunch as a result of working with other immigrants and being Ethiopian himself. At the time, Rahel was only 26, a very young age for ovarian cancer. He ran several tests and then he discovered some white looking nodules all over the inside of her abdomen. That led him to suspect something no one else had; tuberculosis. "After listening to their story, she migrated from Ethopia," said Dr. Tilahun. "The probability for TB goes up."

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium. It primarily attacks the lungs but doctors say the disease can affect other organs and tissues. That's apparently what happened to Rahel. She was diagnosed with peritoneal TB, an unusual infection that some doctors may not know can mimic ovarian cancer.

Rahel was started on anti-TB medications. Within two weeks, they say she was eating and smiling. Since then the couple hasn't looked back.

"Now we can have a family and live to have a family and kids," said Rahel. Dr. Tilahun says Rahel's case is a perfect example of why U.S. doctors need to start looking beyond America's borders in diagnosing illnesses.

As more people travel, different forms of disease are making their way to this country. TB is just one of them. In this case, a late diagnosis almost cost Rahel her life. "If we didn't consider TB for her she would not be around," said Dr. Tilahun. Rahel is now going to school and planning to have a family. And even though it's been more than year and half, the gravity of her ordeal is still overwhelming.

If we didn't consider TB for her she would not be around

Dr. Tilahun says Rahel's form of TB was not highly contagious. He is not sure how she got it but suspects she may have picked up the bacterium after drinking raw milk. He also says that if he had used the gold standard test for TB which takes about four weeks, Rahel probably would have been dead. Dr. Tilahun says instead he used a test not well know here in the U.S. which got him results within a couple days.