A medical wonderland for healing kids

Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center has just opened its Wilf Children’s Hospital that offers facilities to calm and captivate young patients.

Medical Clowns at work.  (photo credit: JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH)
Medical Clowns at work.
Being hospitalized is never pleasant, but for children it can be especially stressful. The latest Israeli children’s medical institution to open – Shaare Zedek Medical Center’s Wilf Children’s Hospital – has clearly been planned, constructed and outfitted with the idea that young patients from infants through older teens must be comfortable and have an interesting and therapeutic stay.
The two-story hospital is an integral part of the eight-floor, $120 million “Next Generation Building” attached to the main general hospital opposite Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl. None of the funding for the children’s hospital came from the government; all was donat - ed by philanthropists through the efforts of SZMC director-general Prof. Jonathan Halevy, who goes abroad every six weeks or so to raise funds for the medical center he has headed for the past 27 years, along with his teams in Jerusalem and abroad.
THE WILF family is headed by Leonard Wilf, the co-owner with his brother Zygmunt of the Minnesota Vikings football team. Their parents, Joseph and Elizabeth Wilf, are both Holocaust survivors from Nazi-occupied Poland. The Wilf family immigrated to the US from Europe in the early 1950s and settled in Hillside, New Jersey. After a brief period as used-car salesmen, Joseph and his brother Harry went into real estate, buying and renting out apartments and then developing whole tracts of land in 39 US states.
The family have made major donations to the capital’s Yad Vashem Heroes’ and Martyrs’ Remembrance Authority and to SZMC itself, as well as to New York’s Yeshiva University and other institutions.
The cornerstone of the 6,000-square-meter children’s hospital was laid way back in 2007, and it was due to open a few years later. But several events, such as a minor earthquake in Jerusalem and the Second Lebanon War, induced the authorities to demand more fortification and shelter in the whole Next Generation Building, which includes all in-vitro fertilization, obstetrics, gynecology and pediatric emergency, outpatient and inpatient departments. The children’s hospital officially opened earlier this month, while the whole building, including pediatric outpatient clinics, will be occupied by the end of this summer.
Vacated space will be used to expand existing SZMC departments. The new Glaubach Family (from Great Neck, New York) Emergency Pavilion, with 13 beds and two trauma beds, is located at the rear of the sixth floor where the 36-year main campus meets the children’s hospital and will allow ambulances immediate access instead of having to arrive at the main hospital’s second-floor main emergency and then moving patients to the Wilf Hospital’s sixth floor. The ninth floor contains a 3,000 sq.m., 70-bassinette neonatal and neonatal intensive care unit headed by Prof. Francis Mimouni.
The ultra-modern pediatric emergency department, run by Dr. Matti Erlichman, contains a shock and trauma unit as well as multiple observation and treatment areas all furnished with the latest advanced equipment specifically designed for pediatric patients. The Gluck Family Medical Pediatric Department is one of the largest in Israel, with 36 regular beds and 26 additional ones in the Vivian Wohl Pediatric Surgery Department. The children’s hospital includes both the Nagel Family Pediatric Inpatient Pavilion and the Friedman Family Outpatient Pavilion (both of the donor families are from Los Angeles).
The department is academically affiliated with the medical faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“Through this ambitious construction project, we are introducing a new vision of pediatric care for the children of Jerusalem and Israel,” said Halevy. “The new facilities serve as symbols of medical excellence. Since 1979, when the main hospital moved from the original 1902 building on Jaffa Road, the number of children treated as inpatients at Shaare Zedek has risen by more than 400 percent and many more times over in the pediatric outpatient and emergency departments.” But to meet the increasing needs of a growing population in Jerusalem and its environs, SZMC needed a new children’s hospital.
In addition to the main departments, Wilf has units for pediatric gastroenterology, hematology, pulmonology, kidney disease, endocrinology, cardiology, genetics, urology, orthopedics, psychiatry, neuropsychology, ophthalmology and ear-nose-and throat, among others.
To familiarize Jerusalemites and others with the new facility, SZMC held an open house on its grounds last Friday that was attended by 3,000 children and their parents and grandparents. The free event included jumping on and sliding down inflated structures, watching children’s plays, musical performances and others that attracted some 50 percent more attendees than had registered to participate, said Prof. Yechiel Schlesinger, the director of the Wilf Children’s Hospital.
“After I graduated from Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School I started my residency in pediatrics at Shaare Zedek, in 1987, and did a fellowship in infectious diseases at Washington University in St. Louis. I returned to Jerusalem in 1993 and worked in the field of infectious diseases for both adults and children for 20 years.”
Then, in January, 2012, Schlesinger was asked by Halevy to head the medical center’s pediatric branch and then to serve as medical director of the new Wilf Children’s Hospital.
No General hospital in the country was willing to house small creatures to promote the relaxation and cooperation of children – except Shaare Zedek. As Schlesinger is an infectious disease expert, he was certain that small mammals, fish and even reptiles would not cause any harm to sick and even immune-compromised children, but he carried out an extensive check, including with the US National Institutes of Health, which reported that animal contact had never caused medical problems in any child patients.
Chemda Didovski, who has a degree in the use of animals for therapy, runs the animal house, home to chinchillas, rabbits, cavies, hamsters, parrots, finches, goldfish and an unusual reptile named the blue-tongued skike. The sleek, shiny-skinned animal, which originates on mainland Australia, is commonly called the blue-tongued lizard. It bares its long tongue as a bluff-warning to potential enemies, but it has a pleasant, patterned skin and is bred in captivity and sold in Australia as a house pet. The child-patients are captivated by the unusual-looking animals.
Didovsky points out that the pair of chinchillas cannot be taken out of the cage by the children, as they are shy and naturally suffer from diabetes – which makes a big impression on young patients who are themselves dependent on insulin injections, who can learn from these animals what side effects and symptoms to watch out for and how to take care of themselves.
A veterinarian from the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo comes once a week to check the animals to ensure that they are healthy. But there is a stone tortoise on the artificial-grass-covered balcony where patients play with rabbit, cavies and hamsters because, said the animal play therapist, live ones could spread bacterial diseases.
A music school is nearby run by Dr. Helena Bugopolski, a Russian-born expert who says listening to music on a stereo-equipped chair reduces tensions, just as a set of cymbals and drums allow angry or afraid children to take out their frustrations.
Art therapy with a wide variety of crafts is also available in the department, as is a very large central room for lounging on comfortable sofas and meeting friends and relatives in a non-hospital atmosphere.
Schlesinger noted that Zvi Rubinstein and Shai Ofer, whose architectural firm is SZMC’s main designer, toured children’s hospitals in Israel and abroad to see innovations and came back with ideas to make Wilf the most innovative. The hospital commissioned a British interior design company called Acrylicize to create colorful, imaginative and easy-to-maintain wall paintings throughout the children’s hospital.
The Lincoln David Abraham Pediatric Educational Institute, recognized by the Education Ministry, is the hospital’s school, where children from young ages through 18 attend classes so that longer hospitalizations don’t cause them to fall behind in their studies. Teens can even complete a full matriculation there.
There are separate book and game libraries for young children and teens so the first group are not overwhelmed and the older ones don’t feel like “babies.”
In the inpatient department there are only two patients per room, but as they are in opposite sides of the ward and adjacent to colorful walls, they and their parents feel as if they were in a private room. Schlesinger insisted that the computer/TV that hangs from the ceiling for the private use of every child be free. Parents, especially the ultra-Orthodox who don’t have TV sets or even computers at home, are told that the content and access is strictly controlled so children are unable to access objectionable material.
A comfortable, foldable armchair-turned-bed is next to each child’s bed so parents can sleep in the ward as well.
Schlesinger pointed to a small cinema where patients and families will soon be able to watch movies to relax, and to a physio-therapy room.
“We created an environment that pro-motes healing and optimal relaxation for the patients and their families,” added Schlesinger. “This was the vision that guided the development of this new hospital.”
The parent of a young patient enthused: “This is beautiful. I think my son is actually in a better mood just because we moved to the new hospital and everything is decorated in such a cheerful way. Children don’t want to go home. While I hope that no child needs to go to the hospital, if they do need to go, the Wilf Children’s Hospital is magnificent.”
Highly trained medical clowns have long been part of patient care in SZMC’s pediatric wards, and they are seen wandering through all the wards many hours of the day and night to put a smile on the faces of the children and their families. The antics momentarily help the children forget about their pain. Clowns often accompany children to specific tests where their presence can assist the medical teams in calming the patients. Research studies have proven that laughter and happiness can be the best medicine.
During the past few months, the local weekend Hebrew papers have been packed with large advertisements from Shaare Zedek announcing the impending Wilf opening and from the Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO), which has been trying to divert some public attention to its nearly two-decade-old “Mother and Child Center,” which it is suddenly promoting as Jerusalem’s “first” children’s hospital.
It will now be up to residents of Jerusalem and its environs to decide to which medical center to entrust the health of their precious children.