Hadassah’s Open Heart
Demand for Hadassah’s PICU beds for young heart patients is intensifying as chaos engulfs the region and organizations such as the Jerusalem-based Christian NGO Shevet Achim bring sick children from neighboring countries into Israel for heart surgery.
A newborn named Malak was the first Christian refugee to be accepted, but died in Iraq while his family was trying to get travel documents. Year-old Maryam (above), a Chaldean Christian from northwest Iraq, born with a life-threatening hole in her heart, has been more fortunate. Arrangements made for her treatment in Turkey fell through when she and her family fled ISIS last August. Among tens of thousands of refugees and growing steadily sicker, Maryam’s name was added to a list of children needing medical care. Last December, she was summoned to see American doctors at the Suleimaniyah Heart Center—the start of the road that has made Maryam and her mother, Lina, the first Iraqi Christian refugees from ISIS to come to Israel for medical treatment.
“I was afraid to leave my husband and two sons and afraid to go to Israel,” says Lina. “I cried day and night, and only at the airport decided we would go.”
It was late February 2015. Shevet Achim flew mother and daughter to Amman and drove them across the Jordanian border into Israel. The next day, they were with chief pediatric cardiologist Dr. Azaria Rein at Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem.
Because of the long delay, Maryam had developed pulmonary hypertension and her prognosis was poor. By late March, however, she was strong enough for surgery—when Hadassah surgeons discovered that the hole in her heart was only one of her problems. Maryam’s faulty heart was tipped to the wrong side, her heart chambers were undivided and her coronary arteries were fused together. Cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Eldad Erez and his team spent eight hours repairing the tiny heart in one of the most complex surgeries they have undertaken. Maryam was discharged from the hospital in April, but still returns to Hadassah for checkups.