'They are the greatest women in the world. Really," Imad Dalau said on Tuesday, a day after returning home to Gaza with his wife and their youngest child, a baby boy named Mustafa. Mustafa had just spent his first night at home after his birth six weeks ago at Hadassah-University Hospital in Ein Kerem, where he'd undergone emergency surgery just days after being delivered to fix a "complex heart anomaly" that could have ended his young life not long after he was born. The women in question included volunteers and officials at Hadassah, as well as members of the Jewish and Christian communities of Kansas City and workers at Shatil, an Israeli non-profit that teams with other organizations to promote social change. Mustafa's first weeks had been a difficult but not unexpected ordeal. Medical tests performed last fall on his mother, Intisar, had revealed the baby's life-threatening heart condition, and volunteers in Kansas City had begun efforts to ensure Mustafa's safe delivery and follow-up operation at Hadassah's elite Ein Kerem facility weeks ahead of his birth.

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The Dalaus' connection with Kansas City had been established during one of Intisar's previous pregnancies, when she met a Kansas City newscaster named Elizabeth Alex working on assignment in Gaza. Mustafa's older sister, Doa, was later born with several birth defects, her father said, and the family was brought to Kansas City while the baby girl underwent surgery on her hands and feet. Later trips for follow-up treatments in Kansas City strengthened the connection further, and when Mustafa's heart condition was discovered while he was still in utero, an additional campaign got under way to provide the medical care he would need after his birth. Officials at Shatil were contacted by members of the Kansas City Jewish community and in turn contacted representatives of the New Israel Fund and Hadassah. Hadassah agreed to perform Mustafa's delivery and heart surgery without cost to the family, and also arranged for his parents' trip across the Erez Checkpoint to Jerusalem a week before his birth by cesarean section. Intisar and Imad Dalau were housed during that week and after the birth without charge at a patients' residence at the hospital. Dr. Yuval Weiss, Hadassah Ein Kerem's deputy director, commented that the surgery was a straightforward procedure. "It was just to save his life," he commented nonchalantly. According to Weiss, Mustafa will need additional surgery later this year to follow up on the initial surgery performed to strengthen his heart. Intisar and Imad Dalau returned home after the successful first surgery to be with the two children they have in addition to Mustafa and Doa, while Mustafa remained in the pediatric intensive care unit at the hospital. While his parents were home, the hospital and Shatil provided volunteers to spend time with the baby, and Hadassah arranged Imad and Intisar's second trip to Jerusalem this week to bring their youngest child home for the first time. A Hadassah social worker stayed in daily contact with the parents during the intervening period, while Arabic speakers from Shatil and the New Israel Fund also kept the family updated about Mustafa's situation and details of their return trip for the baby's release from the hospital. Imad Dalau sounded ecstatic a day after bringing his baby son home, expressing his gratitude to Hadassah, Shatil and the Kansas City Jewish and Christian communities in an effusive mix of Hebrew and English. Realizing he had forgotten to name everyone involved in arranging the operation, he later contacted Shatil to request that the additional names be provided to In Jerusalem. While Mustafa Dalau is now home with the rest of his family, his medical condition will remain an issue for many years. In addition to the surgery he'll require later this year, he'll also need operations as his heart continues to grow - around the ages of six, 12 and 18, Weiss said. How those surgeries will be arranged and paid for has yet to be determined, though Weiss said that Hadassah doctors will be available to consult with Mustafa's physicians in Gaza and that the infant would be brought back to Jerusalem if a medical emergency arises. Hadassah and Shatil officials said financial arrangements for Mustafa's next operation have not yet been made but that they would be contacting the Peres Center for Peace as a possible contributor to the baby's surgery fund. Five of the eight babies currently in Hadassah's pediatric ICU are Palestinian, Weiss noted. "We are very proud of this. In a way, we are a bridge to peace," he said. "We treat people according to their medical condition, not according to their religion or nationality."
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