All parents in Jerusalem should be fighting for world-class cancer care

"Any parent who has the choice to take their child to a different pediatric oncology department would be well advised to do so to receive world-class treatment."

February 5, 2018 21:25
3 minute read.
Reuven Rivlin

President Reuven Rivlin at Israel Cancer Association’s Knock on the Door Campaign event.. (photo credit: SHLOMI AMSALEM)

It is rather surprising that the director-general of the Hadassah Medical Organization, Ze’ev Rothstein, in his February 2 op-ed, demands: “Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.” It raises the question of whether he has actually visited his own pediatric oncology department.

We had the horrible misfortune of not only visiting his department this week, which he claims is “fully functioning,” but in fact having to stay there for four days.

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My son was diagnosed with brain cancer a year ago and has been treated at Hadassah and Ichilov. Hadassah had a world-class department until the changes in May 2017, when we had to leave, at great inconvenience to us. This was not a political or activist move, but simply to avail ourselves of a doctor with experience treating my son’s (not rare) form of cancer. Hadassah by its own admission doesn’t have a brain cancer specialist.

This week my son was neutropenic (low white blood cell count) and due to the seriousness of his condition we had no time to travel to Ichilov. We took him to Hadassah’s pediatric oncology department as it is close to where we live in Jerusalem – assuming that after eight months we would find what Rothstein claims is a “fully functioning” department.

We didn’t see what Rothstein claims to be 10 first-class national and international pediatric hemato-oncology specialists. In fact, we struggled to see just one of them in the first 24 hours of being there, and only achieved that by insisting many times.

Every day, our son was examined by a pediatrician rather than an oncologist. While these pediatricians working in the department may be wonderful doctors, they do not have adequate experience with cancer. This is not usual, nor would it be acceptable in any cancer department in the world, never mind one which Rothstein describes as “world-class.”

Decisions which were made during those four days about how to treat our neutropenic son were mainly guided by me and my wife. Furthermore, we became an advocate for the Arab family next to us, whose daughter could not stop throwing up and clearly needed additional anti-nausea drugs. It was immediately obvious to us that there is a lack of experience and oversight in the department, as well as “under-staffing.”

Hadassah’s pediatric oncology department currently consists of many children from Russia or the Palestinian territories. This seems so far from what Hadassah’s goal should be.

Hadassah surely was founded on admirable principles. The Women’s Zionist Organization of America pursues personal growth, education, advocacy and Jewish continuity. As we were one of only two or three Jewish families in a sub-par department, it seems that the pediatric department in Hadassah is neither fulfilling the aims of Hadassah, or the hospital itself.

Most importantly however, and what is clearly being ignored by Rothstein and many others, is that the children of Jerusalem must be put first and foremost – way above politics or finances. We lost the lottery. And now, in the absence of the Messiah, there are unfortunately likely to be many more patients being diagnosed in the capital. This is a cause that all parents in Jerusalem should be fighting for.

So yes, Yaacov Katz, you received the right advice. Any parent who has the choice to take their child to a different pediatric oncology department would be well advised to do so to receive world-class treatment.

And Ze’ev Rothstein, please listen to your own words and “do not bear false witness.”

The author, an Internet marketing strategist, lives in Jerusalem with his wife and four children.

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