President’s Column: Healing the Children
When USA Today and ABC’s Good Morning America recently chose Jerusalem as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, ABC ran a story it thought would exemplify the best of the city—a Hadassah story.
In 2001, in the midst of the second intifada, when Hadassah Hospital was seeing victims of terror on a daily basis, a Palestinian mechanic searching for scrap metal in a West Bank garbage dump saw something move. When he looked closer, he saw it was an abandoned baby. Sister Sophie, a nun who runs an orphanage in Bethlehem, took in the baby. And when she learned the baby had a rare and life-threatening heart deformity, she turned to Hadassah. Our cardiothoracic surgeon, Eli Milgalter, donated his skill and time. Today, the little girl they called Baby Salaam is living with a family in Europe. Sister Sophie and Dr. Milgalter have visited her there.
Whenever i’m at hadassah medical center, i somehow find myself in the pediatric department. Nothing tears at your heart as much as seeing a sick child. On the other hand, nothing is as glorious as being able to provide the medical care to help sick children get well. Like Baby Salaam, more than a hundred children have their hearts repaired every year at our hospitals. Babies typically come in ill and blue and a week later leave rosy-skinned and happy.
We’ve developed specialties in the diseases of our region, be they the familial dysautonomia of Ashkenazi Jews or the metabolic diseases more common when other Middle Eastern cousins marry each other. Desperate parents from all over Israel and other countries bring children for life-saving treatment to our hospitals, where sophisticated laboratory examinations and exploration of genes can sometimes unravel the mystery of these diseases.
The three new floors we’ve added to the Charlotte Bloomberg Mother and Child Center will provide more space for the children who come for treatment of cancer and hematological diseases. Some remain for months; advanced cancer therapy, including stem cell transplantation pioneered at Hadassah, is long and difficult. Many of the kids are bald and skinny. But I take comfort in knowing that in our hospitals these small patients have the same recovery rates as children in any of the world’s major cancer centers. Not long ago, a beautiful little girl named Melanie came all the way from Chile to be treated for aplastic anemia, a serious disorder that results from the failure of bone marrow to produce blood cells. Bone marrow transplantation is the best option, and within a week of her arrival at Hadassah, a match was found. Melanie is back in Chile doing very well.
Our physicians cure 90 percent of the children they see with leukemia; we’re aiming for 100 percent. That’s why our staff is so deeply committed to research, not only in cancer but in many fields, whether it’s diagnosing pediatric heart problems or treating children’s lungs injured from the blast of a terror attack. Promising clinical trials with a medicine developed in conjunction with Hadassah researchers and clinicians may soon overcome the genetic malfunctions that cause cystic fibrosis.
In the early years of our working with AIDS children, the prognosis was grim. How could you get kids, many of them orphans, to take the complex daily cocktail of drugs? Our staff developed an interdisciplinary care program that included psychologists, social workers, doctors and nurses to deal with the medical, emotional and social crises as they arose. If she weren’t such a private person, I would tour the world with a certain 17-year-old who was born with full-blown AIDS and who, against all predictions and thanks to Hadassah, is today a lovely young lady with a future.
As we start 2007, I want to pass on the appreciation of countless parents and children I meet in our waiting rooms, clinics and departments. They ask me to thank “those wonderful women in America” who have given them the gift of health. And I know you join with me in the New Year’s resolution to do even more this year.