Photo courtesy of Schneider Hospital
A long time ago, as a student radiographer at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, I imagined taking my craft abroad and working in foreign hospitals, thus enabling me to travel the world. However, life rarely plays out our youthful musings. I got married instead and came on aliyah. All these years later, the only part of my old dream that was realized was that I do work in a hospital - not just any hospital mind you, but a special place called Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel.
“Schneider Children’s,” you may ask? Most of us – unless in need of a children’s hospital (t’foo, t’foo, t’foo) – know little about the hospital, as in my case until a job offer came along a decade ago. I have since learned that Schneider Children’s, beyond being one of the leading pediatric centers of its kind in the world, is a rare facility. Named for Irving and Helen Schneider, whose financial contribution remains unmatched to this day as the largest single private donation to any medical institution in Israel, Schneider Children’s is all about the child. The hospital exemplifies the gigantic strides achieved in modern pediatric medicine since the world’s first children’s hospital opened in Dublin, Ireland, in 1821. London followed suit with Great Ormond Street in 1852 and the US three years later with Philadelphia Children’s.
Children just want to play and have fun. But when these small humans are injured or become ill, parents and families face sudden and inconceivable pain and fear. While expert medical care is critical to recovery, of no less importance is the how, where and who. It is here that Schneider Children’s has excelled, not only in treating complex and difficult cases, but also in facing the unusual and unexpected.
It is 4.30am at Schneider Children’s. While the hospital sleeps, the fourth floor is alive with activity. Word of an organ donation has been received a few hours previously. Eighty organ transplantation team members had been mobilized and assigned to their duties in preparation for the marathon operations to transplant a heart, lungs, kidneys and a liver into the bodies of four desperately ill children. Intensive care units, technicians, paramedical and administrative staff were on hand to fulfill needed tasks. The transplants ensued continuously over the next 36 hours. All four children received the gift of life and the chance of a new future. Schneider Children’s may well be one of the only hospitals in the world with the ability to conduct multiple transplant surgeries at the same time.
A three-week-old infant weighing just 800 grams, one of a pair of twins born in the thirtieth week of pregnancy, was transferred to Schneider Children’s in critical condition with transposition of the major arteries. The surplus of blood affected both his lungs and resulted in acute heart failure. Cardiac surgery had never been attempted before in Israel on such a tiny infant, and even the fact that there are only a few documented cases in the world did not deter surgeons. The operation was a success. Prof. Bernardo Vidne, Director of the Cardiothoracic Surgery Department, noted that “the baby would not have had any chance of surviving had he not undergone surgery. Despite the dangers involved due to the enormity and complexity of his defect, we had no choice but to proceed.”
Doctors are frequently required to go “beyond the call of duty” in treating youngsters and have to employ creative thinking alongside special skill. When ongoing hostilities prevented nine-year-old Amin from the village of Jinsafut in the Palestinian Authority from traveling to Schneider Children’s for chemotherapy treatments, Dr. Jerry Stein, Director of the Bone Marrow Transplantation Unit, who lived a few kilometers across the way in Israeli territory, met the youngster in his car at the security crossing. For six consecutive weeks, Dr. Stein continued to administer chemotherapy injections in his car to Amin. The child is currently in remission.
It is this kind of dedication to children that pioneered the hospital’s all-encompassing approach to treatment which integrates social, emotional and educational support. This means that the whole child is treated, not just the disease or injury. When I was eight and had to be hospitalized, I recall how alone and bored I felt. I could well have done with a place like Schneider Children’s where it is mandatory for one parent to remain with their child. The myriad activities available include multimedia and computer rooms, entertainment, music and art classes and a well-stocked library. Kids’ menus and complementary medicine techniques are especially geared to make children feel better. The educational center ensures that youngsters keep up with their schoolwork – some even take their matriculation exams in hospital. Hospital clowns bring humor to distract from painful procedures, while colorful and light-filled interiors enhance the atmosphere of calm.
Since Schneider Children’s emergence on the medical scene in Israel in 1991, other major hospitals in the country have followed suit and have either upgraded their children’s departments or built an adjoining structure for pediatrics such as Ichilov’s Dana in Tel Aviv, and Rambam’s Meyer in Haifa. One can arguably claim that Schneider Children’s changed the practice of pediatric care in Israel.
To me, Schneider Children’s Medical Center is not just any hospital. It does not look like one, nor smell like one. The reception hall or atrium is more along the lines of a five-star hotel. The place is abuzz and if the wards are noisy, so much the better: it shows the kids are up and running. Visitors are always welcome. The building is impressive and worth seeing, but it is the children who are so special – for their faith and fortitude sometimes in the face of unimaginable adversity. It is with them in mind that I pen these lines, for our children are precious gems who deserve to be protected and nurtured as best we can.
Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel is a member of Clalit Health Services and is located at 14 Kaplan Street, Petach Tikva. website: www.schneider.org.il/eng.
Cynthia Barmor is co-chairperson of ESRA Modiin.