After developing a fever, 4-year-old Maria was brought to the hospital in her native Cyprus by her parents, Nikolas and Ioana. Doctors diagnosed her with pneumonia, but after only a few days her condition rapidly deteriorated and they feared for her life.
It became clear that Maria’s survival was dependent on access to an ECMO machine, but none was available locally. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that she could not be transferred without serious health risks due to her fragile condition.
Photos Credit: Rotem Appel, Sheba
Photos Credit: Rotem Appel, Sheba
It was then that Maria’s Cypriot doctors contacted Sheba Medical Center for help. Recognizing her dire plight, Sheba clinicians boarded a special flight to Cyprus, bringing with them an ECMO machine. After Maria was connected, she was safely flown for further treatment at Sheba.
“It was very difficult for us,” shares Maria’s father Nikolas, “but when we came to Sheba, our hope was rekindled that Maria would get her life back and be healthy again. Everyone was very kind and friendly, including Dr. Rubinstein and Dr. Sadeh, who explained Maria’s condition. It was clear to me that everyone cared a lot about Maria.”
After three weeks, the decision was made to try and wean Maria from the ECMO machine. Unfortunately, her condition swiftly deteriorated, and she had to be reconnected. Following further tests, Maria’s therapeutic team, headed by the Director of Pediatric Intensive Care, Prof. Gideon Paret, realized that an inflamed and scarred section in Maria’s right lung was preventing the organ from developing and functioning normally, which meant surgical removal was the only viable option.
“Prof. Paret decided, along with Dr. Rubinstein and Dr. Sadeh, how to proceed. They always kept me in the know and explained everything, so there were no surprises, which is something we really appreciated,” recalls Nikolas.
Happily, the surgery was a success, and just two weeks later Maria was finally disconnected from the ECMO machine. As her condition continued to improve, Maria was soon weaned off ventilation, and was able to breathe by herself for the first time in many weeks.
“Every day we would sit next to Maria and wait for her condition to improve. She was under sedation for a month and a half. When she woke up, we cried, and felt it was something truly amazing. There were times when her condition deteriorated again, but doctors responded quickly, and day by day her condition improved. That made us very happy.”
When she was deemed fit, Maria was transferred to Sheba’s Pediatric Rehabilitation Department, where, following an intensive multidisciplinary rehabilitation program, she regained the ability to walk and handle daily activities. Shortly after, Maria was happily discharged home.
“This experience made us change the way we think about our life,” said Maria’s father, Nikolas. “We realized what’s important and are now happier, spending more time together as a family. To others facing a similar situation, the most important thing is to believe that miracles can happen, because in Maria’s case, it was a miracle. Never stop believing. Besides the doctors and the medical staff, who were amazing, I’d like to thank Anat, our medical coordinator, who was by our side every step of the way. She asked about Maria every day, cried when her condition deteriorated and was thrilled when she got better. She became part of our family during our time at Sheba.”