Dr. Gopi Nallaiyan founded the Little Moppet Heart Foundation with the sole purpose to cater to the needs of children with congenital heart defects.
Baby Zina’s tiny hand was poking out from under a pink blanket. She’s quiet and resting comfortably. But the two-week-old was not at home in her crib. She was in the pediatric cardiac care unit at Hadassah Medical Center in Israel.
Intubated and connected to dozens of machines, she was being monitored around the clock. At the moment, two nurses were standing over her bed, while doctors rushed down the hallway nearby. Zina was born with Taussig-Bing Anomaly, a malformation of the heart that can often prove fatal.
Standing outside the room was Dr. Uri Pollak, who had only been on the job for a few months. Clipboard in hand, he’s the new director of this specialized unit, which focuses solely on children with severe cardiac issues. Before that, he was at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. He comes across as mild-mannered, which is precisely the type of person you’d want for such a high-pressured situation.
Zina was not delivered here at Hadassah. She was born less than a half hour away at the Caritas Baby Hospital in Bethlehem. It’s a Palestinian city located in the West Bank, just south of Jerusalem. When medical issues like hers arise, politics take a backseat. People put aside any differences for the sake of the baby.
Shortly after Zina was born, the medical staff at Caritas saw that her lips were turning blue and she wasn't able to eat properly. They checked her out and discovered a congenital heart defect that could’ve been diagnosed before birth, had the family had access to regular ultrasounds.
“We have very good relations with the cardiologists in Caritas. They call us directly,” Pollak explained. “It can be done very fast.”
Within hours, the baby was whisked to Hadassah. Doctors rushed in, cracking open her chest. Professor Eldad Erez, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Hadassah who has operated on patients all across the globe, performed the surgery on Zina.
Thankfully, they were able to fix the problem in time. “It went very smooth and she had her chest closed one day after surgery,” Pollak said. “Which is remarkably fast for such a huge operation.”
Zina’s family was grateful. So often, in a country muddled with political strife, these kind of humanitarian stories can get lost. But at Hadassah, which is one of the largest hospitals in Israel, there is an open-door policy for anyone in need. Whatever conflict may be going on outside, it stops at the hospital’s front doors.
Many of the doctors and nurses here are bilingual — speaking both Hebrew and Arabic. Waiting lounges look like a United Nations break room, with people of all faiths and backgrounds seated next to each other.
As for Zina, the doctors report that there were no complications following her surgery. Less than two weeks after the life-saving procedure, the baby was able to leave the hospital and is now at home with her two older siblings.
She was able to keep the pink blanket.
Benyamin Cohen is Editorial Director of From the Grapevine and host of the weekly podcast "Our Friend from Israel." He has written for the Washington Post, the Daily Beast, the Huffington Post, Yahoo News and Slate. Cohen is also the author of “My Jesus Year: A Rabbi’s Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith” (HarperCollins), named one of the best books of the year by Publishers Weekly and for which he received the Georgia Author of the Year award. Cohen previously served as the Content Director for the Mother Nature Network, and was the founding editor of both Jewsweek and American Jewish Life magazine. He is based in Morgantown, WV, where he lives with his wife and two dogs.
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