Sheba Medical Center at 70: An oasis of peace in a turbulent region

We take pride in being an oasis of peace and a bastion of medical marvels within a turbulent region.

SHEBA MEDICAL CENTER’S Prof. Amos Toren treats a Palestinian child (photo credit: Courtesy)
SHEBA MEDICAL CENTER’S Prof. Amos Toren treats a Palestinian child
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When legendary prime minister David Ben-Gurion prodded Dr. Chaim Sheba, the first surgeon general of the IDF, to transform the ramshackle Army Hospital #5, which was created during the War of Independence in 1948 to treat wounded soldiers, into a civilian medical facility in 1953, no one imagined that this former rural doctor would spur the concept of “Start-Up Nation” within the realm of medical innovation and humanitarian outreach.
During his 33 years as director-general of Tel Hashomer Hospital (which became Sheba Medical Center upon his death in 1971), Sheba played a vital role in transforming the 150 acre medical campus from a series of rusting army barracks with 650 beds, into a 200 acre modern campus housing nearly 2,000 beds – where 8,500 hospital personnel tend to over 1 million patients a year, making it the largest hospital in Israel and the Middle East region as a whole.
His humanitarian world view of treating sick patients from all walks of life, Jews, Christians and Moslems alike endeared him to many people in the chaotic region. In the aftermath of the Six Day War, Ben-Gurion and former defense minister Moshe Dayan encouraged Sheba to tend to critically Palestinian men, women and children in Gaza and the West Bank.
Fifty-one years later, the medical bond of peace between anyone in need from Gaza and the  West Bank and Sheba Medical Center can be seen in the hallways of our hospital, where Palestinian men, women and especially children, who suffer from a variety of genetic maladies, are treated with compassion on a daily basis.
There are other unknown facts, such as Kurdish Muslim children from Iraq, who are in desperate need of life-saving heart surgery, are being ferried to Israel’s Sheba Medical Center by a Christian outreach organization. They are operated on and cared for by Israeli Jewish and Arab Muslim doctors and nurses alike. Indeed, these are the real life daily dramas that are rarely, if ever reported on the evening TV news or in the newspapers.
We take pride in being an oasis of peace and a bastion of medical marvels within a turbulent region.
As we celebrate Sheba Medical Center’s 70th anniversary, I am honored to facilitate the legacy of Sheba by directing the next transformation of this bustling tertiary hospital facility.
During the next decade, Sheba will become a “City of Health”, where patients will be treated and then trained to stay out of the hospital via cutting-edge health regimens. Many of those cutting-edge regimens will be propelled by our new Innovation Center, where some of the world’s best-known big data and digital health companies will help dozens of start-ups bring their concepts to the global medical marketplace. 
Our Israel Center for Disaster Medicine and Humanitarian Response teams, which have saved many lives in Haiti, Mexico, Zambia, Papua New Guinea, and this week in Guatemala, will continue to expand their crucial operations all over the globe.
And, we will continue to be a global player in the creation of newfangled treatments for life-threatening ailments such as cancer, hemophilia, heart, kidney and lung diseases. There is nothing like seeing a smiling teenage girl, who only weeks earlier was deemed to be terminally ill, roller-skating around the hospital’s premises, after receiving a life-saving novel immunotherapy treatment for leukemia.
Peace and hope represent the human factors that can cure the ills of society as a whole. They are also the DNA of what makes Sheba Medical Center such a unique place to work.
The author is the director-general of Sheba Medical Center (Tel Hashomer) in Ramat Gan. He trained as an Internal Medicine specialist, he formerly held the rank of Brigadier General, during his tenure as Surgeon General of the Israel Defense Forces (2011-2014).