Israeli surgeons saved the life of a two-week-old Syrian-Kurdish baby born with a heart defect, the Institute of Cardiology at Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva disclosed on Tuesday.
The baby, identified as Johnny Yusuf, was prematurely born to Syrian refugees in Cyprus, weighing 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs) at birth. Cypriot doctors diagnosed the baby as having a life-threatening heart defect, but the necessary surgery wasn’t available in Cyprus.
The Cypriot Health Ministry reached out to Professor Einat Birk, who heads Schneider’s Institute of Cardiology. She advised that Johnny be immediately flown to Israel.
Bringing the baby to Israel was no simple matter. Because Israel and Syria have no relations, Israeli diplomatic officials in the Foreign Ministry and at the Israeli embassy in Nicosia had to arrange permits. According to Olga Godin, director of Schneider’s international care clinic, arranging the permits and medical logistics took one week.
Professor Gil Klinger, director of the Schneider Children’s Medical Center’s neonatal unit accompanied the baby along with medical gear needed for the flight. Also on the flight was the baby’s 21-year-old brother, Aref.
Johnny was operated one day after his arrival by Dr. George Frankel, director of Schneider’s cardiac surgery department. After a month of recovery and observation, the baby was discharged and returned to his family in Cyprus.
“Open heart surgery on a baby weighing just over one and a half kilograms is very challenging, not to mention that he’s one of three brothers and the parents were unable to come along. The fact that he’s a refugee is irrelevant to us, but did necessitate the assistance of the Foreign Ministry,” Prof. Birk said.
“The operation is done with the help of a heart-lung machine. We had to stop the heart and get an alternate blood flow mechanism in place. It is very delicate and precise work. The margin of error is zero. But, Johnny is likely to have a long and healthy life.”
Godin stressed that the baby’s treatment was funded by the Cypriot Foreign Ministry and not by Israeli taxpayers.