6-year-old Ethiopian boy successfully undergoes heart surgery in Israel

Biniyam and his mother were forced to spend a month apart due to the difficulties posed by COVID-19 flight and quarantine restrictions.

6-year-old Biniyam Tesfahun Maru of Ethiopia is seen at the Sylvan Adams Children's Hospital at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon. (photo credit: SAVE A CHILD'S HEART)
6-year-old Biniyam Tesfahun Maru of Ethiopia is seen at the Sylvan Adams Children's Hospital at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.
(photo credit: SAVE A CHILD'S HEART)
 Six-year-old Biniyam Tesfahun Maru of Ethiopia successfully underwent a life-saving open-heart surgery at the Sylvan Adams Children's Hospital at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon on Sunday evening, a spokesman for the Israeli NGO Save a Child's Heart (SACH) told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Dr. Lior Sasson, head of the Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Unit at Wolfson and the surgeon that operated on Biniyam, told The Jerusalem Post after the surgery that "We are very glad that Biniyam was brought to us in time to fix his heart defect, save his life and enable him to grow up like all other children."
After all but a select few flights to Ben-Gurion Airport were grounded in January due to the emergence of alarmingly infectious new variants of COVID-19, SACH was able to arrange for Biniyam to fly to Israel on a special Jewish Agency immigration flight so he could receive treatment for a life-threatening cardiac defect on February 12.
A last minute coronavirus diagnosis however, meant that Biniyam's mother, Shashitu Andebrt Tizalu, had to wait more than two weeks to recover before she could board a flight to be with her son. She was forced to quarantine for another two weeks before finally reuniting with him on March 8, only a day before he was hospitalized to prepare for surgery.
The month apart affected both Biniyam and his mother Shashitu greatly, Tamar Shapira, deputy director of SACH told the Post in an interview on Monday.
When asked how it was to board the flight without his mother, Shapira said "It wasn't easy for him. Biniyam had his mother up until the last second and then, suddenly, they told him to board the flight alone."
Shapira said Biniyam became very attached to Shira, an Ethiopian-Israeli Jewish Agency guide who escorted him during the flight and took care of him during quarantine, saying he had become like "one of her own children."
"They got very attached and, when they finished the quarantine, she had to go back to her family, she has kids of her own," Shapira told the Post. "He took it very hard."
Biniyam was taken to the SACH Children's Home, where he joined a group of more than 20 other children from Tanzania, Zanzibar, Ethiopia and Ghana, most of which didn't speak the same language as he did.
"They tried everything, he wouldn't leave his room," Shapira said. Until, Shapira said, one day at the home, a seven-year-old boy from Zanzibar named Ibrahim, "heard that there was a little boy upstairs who is sad and doesn't want to come down, so he went upstairs."
Ibrahim reached his hand towards Biniyam and gestured at him to get up and come with him, at which point Ibrahim "gave [Biniyam] his hand, got him out of his bed and they walked out together. Since then, they've become best friends," Shapira said, adding that this is especially impressive considering the two can't even speak the same language.
Shapira said that even though he within a few hours of meeting Ibrahim, Biniyam was already playing with the other children and had begun to finally show signs of joy.

Biniyam Tesfahun Maru is seen alongside his friend Ibrahim. (Photo credit: Save a Child's Heart)Biniyam Tesfahun Maru is seen alongside his friend Ibrahim. (Photo credit: Save a Child's Heart)

However, Biniyam's most emotional day since arriving was the day he was finally reunited with his mother. Shapira said that they waited until only two minutes prior to the meeting before telling him that it would be happening, so as to not cause him needless anxiety beforehand.
When they finally told Biniyam the news, Shapira said "He sort of listened, but he didn't move his face, say anything or react in any way."
An Ethiopian nurse who accompanies the SACH children to Israel for life saving procedures and treated Biniyam, told Shapira that when she asked Biniyam why he wasn't happy to hear the news, he told her that "Until I see her, I won't believe it."
Shapira described what happened when his mother finally arrived, saying "She went into the home and within seconds grabbed him into her arms and he began crying."
When asked how the separation affected Biniyam's mother, Shashitu, Shapira told the Post that "It was very, very hard for her."
Shapira, herself a mother, said that she can't fully claim to speak on Shashitu's behalf, adding that "I can't even imagine how difficult this was for her."
"Having a child in such a life-threatening condition is unbearable. Add to that the knowledge that you live in a place which doesn't have the medical capabilities to save the life of your child," Shapira said. "Then, of course, having to send him, not being able to be with him and know what was going to happen. It's all very, very hard."
She said when she spoke to Shashitu, she was very grateful, repeatedly thanking her and SACH for taking Biniyam in and treating his heart condition for free.
Biniyam is now recovering at the Sylvan Adams Children's Hospital, with his mother by his side.
 Biniyam Tesfahun Maru is seen alongside his mother, Shashitu Andebrt Tizalu. (Photo credit: Save a Child's Heart)Biniyam Tesfahun Maru is seen alongside his mother, Shashitu Andebrt Tizalu. (Photo credit: Save a Child's Heart)
SACH is a humanitarian organization, based in Israel, which works internationally to save the lives of children from partner countries with disadvantaged healthcare systems.
Shapira concluded the interview by saying that "Our core value at Save a Child's Heart is Tikkun Olam – doing good to repair the world and believing that every child deserves the best medical care, regardless of race, religion, gender, nationality or financial status."
Since being founded at Wolfson Medical Center in 1995, SACH has saved the lives of more than 5,700 children from 62 countries, around half of whom are Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza.
In addition, SACH has, to date, brought more than 140 healthcare professionals from around the world to train in Israel, so they can create "centers of excellence" in their home countries, wherein they can independently provide more advanced treatment to children.
SACH's humanitarian activity is made possible thanks to the support of donors in Israel and abroad, mainly Morris Kahn, The Azrieli Foundation and the Arison Foundation.