Sheba Medical Center’s mission: Healing the divide

Celebrating the New Year with a new lease on life has never been sweeter…

SHEBA MEDICAL CENTER Director General, Prof. Yitshak Kreiss and IDF combat medics transport a severely wounded Syrian child to Sheba Medical Center (photo credit: COURTESY - SHEBA MEDICAL CENTER)
SHEBA MEDICAL CENTER Director General, Prof. Yitshak Kreiss and IDF combat medics transport a severely wounded Syrian child to Sheba Medical Center
When US first lady Eleanor Roosevelt was given a “VIP” tour of what was then known as Tel Hashomer Hospital in the early 1950s by Prof. Chaim Sheba, the facility consisted of nothing more than a handful of ramshackle military barracks. Sheba explained to her how he wanted to raise enough funding to create a modern medical facility that could serve the needs of local citizens in the neophyte Jewish state.
Nearly 70 years later, the sprawling 81-hectare Sheba Medical Center (renamed after Sheba, who died in 1971), not only tends to the needs of nearly 1.5 million people a year in central Israel, it has become the largest and most sophisticated hospital facility in the Middle East and is well on its way toward becoming a global medical superpower.
Within the realm of its transformation, Sheba has become much more than just another mundane medical facility. It is rapidly morphing into a futuristic and innovative “City of Health,” where cutting-edge technologies are being employed by doctors to save the lives of critically ill patients not only in Israel but also in disaster zones around the world.
Just walking through the bustling hallways of the hospital’s various buildings during the past year, one could see, feel and experience the personal medical dramas that were being played out on a daily basis.
And then there were the various cloak-and-dagger “operations,” which were carried out by the IDF in tandem with the director general of Sheba, Prof. Yitzhak Kreiss or a Christian American organization to rescue and treat young victims of the Syrian civil war, as well as Iraqi Kurdish children in desperate need of heart surgery.
In one adrenaline-infused episode that caught the attention of the international media this past summer, a young girl by the name of Mailk, was seriously wounded in an aerial bombing attack by Syrian forces. She was rescued from certain death by an IDF combat medical team and Prof. Kreiss, who made sure Malik was transported to Sheba’s Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital by helicopter, where the child received life-saving emergency care. Mailk’s mother, who was whisked to Sheba with her daughter wearing only the clothes on her back and having never met an Israeli before in her life, prays for a better future for her daughter.
“I can only hope that we can return to our home in Syria and live in peace with our neighbors. We are scared but hopeful,” she revealed.
During the past year, Jewish and Israeli-Arab doctors and nurses worked feverishly to save the lives of hundreds of desperately ill Palestinian children and adults from Gaza and the West Bank. It is not unusual to see a concerned mother or grandmother’s frown turn into a smile, as both Jewish and Israeli Arab doctors provide life-saving treatments and a reassuring nod.
“When a mother from Gaza sees that a Jewish or an Israeli Arab doctor is doing everything to save their sick child from death, revealing the true humanity of Israelis, they are transformed into ambassadors of peace when they return home. These are the untold stories that unfold here on a daily basis. It is the essence of what it means to be a hospital without borders and an oasis of peace,” said Prof. Kreiss.
When Prof. Josef Haik isn’t performing life-saving surgery on severely burned patients at Sheba, he can occasionally be found risking his own skin, as part of Prof. Elhanan Bar-On’s Israel Center for Disaster Medicine and Humanitarian Response team, to treat the victims of natural disasters. A few months ago, Haik hiked through a hot zone in rural Guatemala where toxic volcanic ash was falling on local towns and villages.
“Yes, it was a scary, harrowing once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he revealed. “We were quickly able to tend to about 70 refugees who were suffering from burns, smoke inhalation, etc.”
During the past week, one could hear “Happy New Year” felicitations for the coming year being offered from visiting American pharmaceutical executives to a phalanx of doctors and researchers at Sheba, who’ve been treating hundreds of desperately ill people of all ages during the past year, using a potpourri of new drugs and therapies. Not a day goes by when a seriously ill patient isn’t being saved by a new, cutting-edge drug as part of a clinical trial, sponsored by well-known pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Sheba is already considered a global player in the clinical trial arena based on its superior medical care and research capabilities.
In a recent unscripted scene that would have made the producers of Grey’s Anatomy envious, a gravely ill leukemia stricken girl from Bnei Brak literally skated from her hospital room out of the Safra Children’s Hospital’s front doors, just a few weeks after receiving the new CAR-T immunotherapy.
Celebrating the New Year with a new lease on life has never been sweeter…
This article was written in cooperation with Sheba Medical Center.