NIFA Surgical e-News, April 27, 2013

Meet Joshua Tegegn – NIFA Suture Man

In a quiet upstairs room at NIFA headquarters in Centennial, CO, Joshua Tegegn works every day to manufacture the different kinds of suture our students use in the RNFA program: Vicryl, Poly Mono, Silk on, Keith’s, Tapered, Cutting, Detachable and Double Armed.

Joshua’s surroundings are in sharp contrast to some of the other places he’s been.

Born in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, he was 13 years old when the entire congregation of his church–men, women, children, even babies–was arrested and thrown in jail. Joshua stayed in jail for three weeks, followed by two months in prison. The Ethiopian government at the time did not support freedom of religion, accepting only the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and frowning on the evangelical church he attended.

“It was a bad time in Ethiopia,” he says. “The country was on its way to communism,” a form of government that was to last 25 years there, ending in 1995.

As a young man, Joshua was among 3,000 civilians captured by the Somali military during the Ethiopian-Somali War and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Somalia. There he spent 11 years and 3 months as a prisoner, working in agriculture and living under constant surveillance by the Somali military. When the Ethiopian and Somali governments finally came to an agreement to exchange prisoners, in 1988, conditions in Joshua’s camp were so bad (lack of food and clothing) that the Red Cross was assigned responsibility for the camp.

Once released, Joshua and his older brother headed to Nairobi, Kenya, where his brother’s wife and children were living. Joshua lived there for two years, then approached the American Embassy and asked for asylum. Joshua was able to get a sponsor in Boulder, CO, where he had some family members, and came in 1990 as a refugee. (His brother went on to become a surgeon for the United Nations until his death in 2012.)

In Denver Joshua joined a branch of the same evangelical church he had gone to prison for as a teenager. He also met the woman who became his wife. She is a CNA working at the Aurora Medical Center. Joshua earned his CNA, too, but uses it only for volunteer work; he volunteers at the Little Sisters of the Poor, a residence in Denver for elderly people. He is also an avid runner. In 1997, Joshua became a US citizen.

For 14 years Joshua worked as a woodworker at a Denver commercial seating company. Then he and several other company employees were laid off in 2009.

“After that it was hard to find a job,” he says. “Thank God, I got this job at NIFA. I like all the people, I like the work, and it is not stressful. Nobody bothers me.”

Even though he has had layoffs and difficulties, Joshua will have his entire mortgage paid off this year. He is an example of Living the American Dream.