Iraqi baby arrives in Israel for medical treatment
A week-old Iraqi infant has arrived in Israel to undergo an operation to correct a congenital heart defect, with the aid of the Israeli organization Save a Child's Heart.
Wrapped in a red and yellow blanket and held by her mother, tiny Bayan Jassem was met Tuesday by Israeli doctors at the entrance to the emergency room at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon with the Arabic greeting "Salam alaikum," or welcome.
Akiva Tamir, the director of pediatric cardiology at the hospital, took the baby in his arms and carried her to a hospital bed, where he hooked her up to a heart monitor.
The hospital room resounded with the monitored beeping of the baby's heart as Jonathan Miles, an American who traveled with the family from Iraq to Israel over the weekend, translated from Hebrew and Arabic for the doctors and parents.
"Shalom," said a nurse in a Hebrew greeting as she hurriedly entered the room, evoking a smile from the mother who held her hands to her face in worry as she listened to her baby's weak cries.
Doctors do not yet know when the operation will be performed, but they said it must be within two weeks of her birth. Tamir said the arteries to her heart are reversed.
The journey would probably have been impossible before the U.S.-led military sweep into Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, a bitter enemy of Israel. Saddam's forces fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel in the 1991 Gulf war. As early as 1948, Iraqi soldiers took part in the two-year war that followed Israel's establishment.
An American doctor working with the U.S. forces in Iraq who checks babies for heart defects discovered Jassem's problem a day after her birth in a hospital near Kirkuk in northern Iraq, said Simon Fisher, executive director of Save a Child's Heart.
The doctor contacted Miles, who telephoned Save a Child's Heart and the Wolfson Medical Center to ask if they could perform the operation. The hospital is in Holon, south of Tel Aviv, and has been the headquarters of the foundation since its inception.
"This is an emergency condition," Miles said. "No child in Iraq has ever had this operation done," since there are no doctors trained for such an operation in the Arab country, he said.
Tamir, the Israeli doctor, instructed a doctor in Baghdad over the phone on how to perform a minor operation on Jassem to stabilize her condition before she flew with her parents to Amman, and then traveled by car to Israel.
Moshe Mashiah, director of the Wolfson Medical Center, said that as someone who immigrated from Iraq in 1951, he is very excited by the possibility of aiding the Iraqi infant.
"I hope that the surgery will be successful and that this baby girl will serve as a bridge between the two peoples," Mashiah said.
Save a Child's Heart was founded in Israel and receives most of its funding from donations in Israel, the United States, Canada and Germany. It has given medical treatment to almost 1,000 children since it was founded in 1995, including more than 300 Palestinians and several Jordanians.