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Israeli Doctor Speaks in Canada on International Emergency Disaster Medicine

Prof. Elhanan Bar-On, MD, MPH, recently delivered a medical presentation to the faculty at North York General Hospital in Toronto, ON. During this same visit to Canada, he also gave two intriguing talks about his experiences responding to large-scale medical crises around the globe.

Prof. Bar-On is an orthopedic surgeon and the Director of The Israel Center for Disaster Medicine and Humanitarian Response, a division of Sheba Medical Center, the largest hospital in the Middle East. Prior to working at Sheba, he was Head of Pediatric Orthopedics at Schneider Children’s Hospital, the largest children’s hospital in Israel. In addition, he worked on humanitarian medical teams with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), including serving as head of the orthopedic department for the IDF field hospital in Haiti, after the 2010 earthquake.

When a local community cannot fulfill its demands for medical attention after any type of calamity, it is defined as a disaster. In the event that such a disaster occurs anywhere in the world, Prof. Bar-On is one of the doctors who rushes to offer emergency medical assistance.

“Especially after a disaster, people feel that the whole world has forgotten them. Then, suddenly, this team comes from 10,000 kilometers away … It gives them a glimmer of hope, which is as important as the specific treatment,” Prof. Bar-On said in an interview with The Canadian Jewish News.

“The State of Israel, as a state, has always seen its role as what we call the concept of tikun olam – mending the world,” explains Bar-On. “We provide help to anyone who needs it in the world.”

He gave one of his talks at the Adath Israel Congregation, a large synagogue in the North York district of Toronto. During this speech, he described the healthcare infrastructure in developing countries and what happens during a large-scale emergency situation. He discussed the various disaster relief initiatives of Sheba Medical Center and shared many of his personal experiences treating people around the world.

For example, Prof. Bar-On told the story of how he treated a young girl from Nepal who was seriously injured in an earthquake. A year later, he returned to Nepal and met the girl’s entire family and performed a complex limb-lengthening surgery on this girl. “I didn’t operate on her alone. I operated on her with an orthopedic surgeon whom I met when I was in Nepal before,” explained Prof. Bar-On. “That doctor subsequently came to Israel and spent a year training with me. Then, we operated on her together back in Nepal. It was symbolic and very moving.”

That particular story reflects two unique initiatives to which Sheba Medical Center is devoted. International teams are deployed to treat patients and teach doctors, and doctors are also invited from other countries to train in Israel.

Rabbi Adam Cutler, Senior Rabbi at Adath Israel, showed deep appreciation for Bar-On’s talk. As he shared, “It was an opportunity for our synagogue to showcase to our local medical community, and to our entire Toronto community, Israel’s tremendous contribution to international emergency disaster medicine.”

Sheba Medical Center also helps to bring people to Israel for treatment, including patients from Gaza, the West Bank, and some countries that cannot be mentioned. Through his engaging presentations in Toronto, Prof. Bar-On showed the world how there is so much work that needs to be done, practically and ethically, when it comes to responding to medical crises around the world – and how Sheba will be leading the way.