Sheba Medical Center has treated more than 41 Kurdish children in the past 10 months
Ajwan, Aram’s 3.5-year-old son, was diagnosed in Iraqi Kurdistan with a heart condition that required open heart surgery for lifesaving treatment. This type of surgery was unavailable in Kurdistan, but an American doctor working there told Aram that the procedure could be done in Israel.
“I wasn’t afraid to come to Israel, even though I was warned I could lose my Syrian passport,” said Aram.
Within a short time, Ajwan was connected to Shevet Achim, a Jerusalem-based Christian Zionist NGO that arranged visas for him and his family. Shevet Achim also organized the necessary heart surgery for Ajwan at Sheba Medical Center.
Shevet Achim serves to assist non-Israeli children to receive critical medical care in Israel. Despite recent escalations in war-torn Iraq and Syria, the organization’s efforts are continuing. As explained by Jonathan Miles, head of the NGO, they have arranged visas and treatment at Sheba for 41 Iraqi Kurdish children, as well as three children from Syria, in the past 10 months. Additional patients are already slated to arrive. The main focus of Shevet Achim is to help children get the heart surgeries they require to live.
“For a Kurdish child to come here, the visa has to cross the desk of the interior minister, who limits entry to those who need lifesaving medical care,” Miles said. “The families must fly through Jordan to reach Israel.”
As many as 200,000 to 300,000 Kurds have sought (or are currently seeking) refuge in northern Iraq. According to Miles, another 20 to 30 children with congenital heart diseases will need to be treated, and Israel will grab the opportunity to lend a hand for this humanitarian mission.
Most of the heart surgeries are performed by Dr. David Mishaly, Head of the International Congenital Heart Center at the Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba. Dr. Mishaly reports that without these operations, the children would either die or face a lifetime of debilitation.
“In many cases, when we read the children’s medical file from his country of origin, it can differ from what we discover with our advanced check-ups,” Mishaly explains. “That’s because in many third-world countries, medical technology is nearly 60 years behind developed Western countries, like Israel.”
Additionally, Dr. Mishaly shares that he must carefully consider which type of surgery to do, because the patients are returning to a country that has minimal, if any, primary medical care.
Due to language barriers, communication between the patient’s family and the Sheba team is complex. Most of the Kurdish patients don’t even speak Arabic, so they must communicate via a translator who is fluent in both Arabic and Kurdish – and then that person relays a message to someone else who speaks both Arabic and Hebrew, and vice versa.
Dr. Mishaly adds that he keeps up to date with current events and knows that his newest patients will be coming to him after undergoing extensive trauma. However, he asserts that his focus is always on providing the best medical care possible, and not on political policies or battles in Syria or Iraq.
“I take care of the [Kurdish] patients in the same way I take care of my Israeli patients,” he said. “They are beautiful people – warm and authentic. It is a pleasure to care for them.”
At Sheba, a multidisciplinary team supports each patient, including social workers, nurses, and other professional staff.
Aram described that she and other Kurds are “not hostages in the hospital,” and that Sheba and Israel allows them to leave the hospital and see the country under the oversight of Shevet Achim. They have toured Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and prayed on Temple Mount.
“I am thankful for all of the help,” she said, “and especially thankful to the doctors at Sheba for saving my child.”