In-Depth Look: Omaha Athletic Trainer Who Cares for a Rwandan Boy after Hip Replacement Surgery

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Craig HolzCraig Holz, MS, LAT, ATC and his wife Julie have been caring for an orphan named Ananias from Rwanda, Africa. Ananias has severe hip dysplasia and needed a hip replacement. He was no longer in school in Africa because of chronic pain and was immobile. Holz has been helping with Ananias’ activities of daily living and rehabilitation. He elaborates on this story during a recent interview.

About Craig Holz

Craig Holz is an Athletic Trainer (AT) and retired teacher at Millard South High School in Omaha, Nebraska. Holz started his career by earning a bachelor’s degree from University of Nebraska at Kearney and a master’s degree from Central Missouri State University. Many of his colleagues and former students would call Holz an athletic training pioneer. Holz helped Nebraska gain licensure for ATs and served on the Nebraska State Athletic Trainers’ Association Executive Board. He was inducted into the Nebraska State Athletic Trainers’ Association and Mid-America Athletic Trainers’ Association Hall of Fame and named Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer by the NATA in recent years. Holz serves as a preceptor for the University of Nebraska Omaha Athletic Training Program.

1. How did you become involved in helping a Rwanda orphan?

My interest in Rwanda, Africa started when my daughter Kara Higgins and son-in-law Ryan Higgins adopted 2 orphans from Rwanda to add to their family. Kara is a certified nurse midwife and Ryan is high school teacher and after the adoption now have a total of 4 kids.

In years following the adoption, Kara and Ryan made another trip to Rwanda to visit orphans who had very little food or running water. At the time, there was an orphan crisis in Rwanda due to war, genocide, HIV, malaria and poverty. They eventually started working with Visiting Orphans that coordinates international trips for small groups who visit orphanages in a dozen countries, including Rwanda.

Craig and Julie

My wife, Julie and I decided to go with Kara and Ryan on one of their trips to Rwanda. While there, we visited an orphanage in the Kimisagara neighborhood, in the capital city of Kigali. This orphanage was not frequently visited because of its location at the top of a steep gravel road that could only be reached by foot. There were approximately 125 kids in this orphanage who were not having their basis needs met. The living conditions of the orphanage included holes dug for bathrooms, 4 kids to a bed and no place for the kids to play. There was also a complete lack of education. Despite this, the kids were amazing and so good natured. It was easy for Julie and I to fall in love with them and want to help.

After that trip, Kara, Ryan and others helped formed a non-profit organization called Imana Kids: an Orphan-Care Ministry ( Their mission includes making sure the children of Kimisagara receive the best possible education and have their basic needs met. To make this happen, the organization raises funds through the sponsorship of Kimisagara children who are old enough to attend boarding school. It’s for a very good cause, and I am currently a sponsor.

2. Please share Ananias’ story.

Ananias was one of the orphans who was living in the Kimisagara orphanage. Since he is an orphan, it is difficult to determine his exact age but he thinks he is about 16 or 17 years old. Ananias has severe hip dysplasia and arthritis that limited his mobility and quality of life. He was unable to attend school in Africa because he could not sit upright for extended periods of time without severe pain.

Kara was able to find a doctor in Omaha who agreed to perform the total hip replacement surgery for free. Ananias was approved for a medical visa, flew from Africa to Omaha and underwent the surgery. A hip replacement in Rwanda is likely to be unsuccessful because he did not have access to the family support that a hospitalized patient needs to receive care. Following his surgery, Julie and I decided to take Ananias into our home and help care for him during his recovery and rehabilitation.

3. What is your role/duties in this project?

Julie and I both help to care for Ananias by helping him dress, shower and perform daily activities. We provide him with whatever he needs to keep him on the road to recovery. The surgery was tough for Ananias as one of his legs is now 2 to 3 inches shorter. For the first time in his life, his legs are now the same length. It is incredible to watch his progress every day.

Mission Trip4. How is caring for Ananias and his hip replacement recovery different from your typical duties as an AT in the secondary school setting?

All ATs have compassion for their patients. You can see this in the work we do every day, and I think that sort of compassion is present in all of us. In Ananias’ situation, it would be hard to not feel the same compassion that I feel for my patients as an AT. I see this experience as an opportunity to give back and do something extra. It also makes you look beyond the injury and at the person. Ananias is a great person to know. His one dream when he grows up is to become a teacher and help young children learn. My experiences with Ananias also make me thankful for the opportunities I’ve had in my life.

5. You have been a part of multiple state championship teams, served at the Pan-America Games and other high profile sporting activities, how does service in this capacity compare?

I see my professional achievements as opportunities to improve my skills and work with an amazing group of ATs. The difference in Ananias’ case is that the rewards are more personal. I feel good to be able to help another person. It’s just that simple.

6. What advice would you give to other ATs who may look to share their athletic training knowledge, skills and abilities with those in need?

My advice would be to take the opportunity to go on a mission trip. It is worth it to experience first-hand the people and culture from another country. The love that the people of Rwanda show after having been through so much is just amazing to witness. Any time you can experience a different culture will have an impact on your life.

For more information on Ananias’ story, see the Omaha World Herald article below.

'I'll have no more pain': Couple help Rwandan orphan get hip replacement surgery in Omaha

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