Doctors optimistic as Syrian baby completes 1st of 3 heart surgeries in Israel
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Doctors optimistic as Syrian baby completes 1st of 3 heart surgeries in Israel

Infant with rare congenital heart defect was flown to Sheba Medical Center last week with his father, who says he has ‘complete faith’ in Israeli medical team

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Dr. Alain Serraf, head of the International Congenital Heart Center at Sheba's children's hospital, after conducting surgery on a 10-day-old Syrian baby on June 14, 2020. (Sheba Medical Center)
Dr. Alain Serraf, head of the International Congenital Heart Center at Sheba's children's hospital, after conducting surgery on a 10-day-old Syrian baby on June 14, 2020. (Sheba Medical Center)

Israeli doctors on Sunday expressed cautious optimism after completing a complicated heart surgery on a 10-day-old Syrian baby who was flown to Israel last week — the first of three procedures the boy will require to address a rare congenital defect.

The Syrian baby arrived in Israel from Cyprus on Thursday with his father, a Syrian refugee currently living in the Mediterranean island nation, in order to receive the surgeries at Ramat Gan’s Sheba Medical Center.

The infant was born with a rare congenital defect known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, in which the left side of the heart fails to develop properly, leading to poor blood circulation, a hospital spokesperson told The Times of Israel. If left unaddressed, the condition is fatal.

In order to fix the problem, the infant will ultimately require three procedures: the first of which was completed on Sunday; the second will be performed in six months; and the third will be carried out when he is two years old.

A 10-day-old Syrian baby is flown from Cyprus to Israel for emergency surgery on June 11, 2020. (Sammy Revel/Twitter)

Dr. Alain Serraf, head of the International Congenital Heart Center at Sheba’s children’s hospital, completed the first surgery — known as the Norwood procedure — on the newborn on Sunday morning, the hospital said.

“We will be watching him carefully over the next 2 days. But I can say that the procedure went well and we are guardedly optimistic that the child will be okay as we slowly wean him off the various machines,” Serraf said.

A 10-day-old Syrian baby is flown from Cyprus to Israel for emergency surgery on June 11, 2020. (Sammy Revel/Twitter)

In the Norwood procedure, a shunt is placed in the heart to connect the pulmonary artery, which carries oxygen-rich blood, to the aorta, from which it is pumped throughout the body.

“The first procedure is always the most difficult. We have experience in doing the Norwood procedure on a number of children who come from throughout the region,” Serraf said.

Over the coming weeks, the baby will recover from this first surgery and then return to Cyprus. In six months, he will return for the second procedure and then again a year and a half later for the final one, the hospital said.

“If everything goes according to plan, the child can have a normal lifestyle,” Serraf said.

Speaking through Sheba’s spokesperson, the boy’s father thanked the governments of Cyprus and Israel for coordinating the emergency surgery.

“I feel much more relieved and have complete faith in Sheba’s medical staff for all of the help they are giving my child,” the Syrian national said Sunday, according to the spokesman.

This was the first time that Sheba — often ranked as one of the world’s top hospitals — received such an emergency case from abroad since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the hospital spokesman.

A 10-day-old Syrian baby is flown from Cyprus to Israel for emergency surgery on June 11, 2020. (Sammy Revel/Twitter)

Such situations were common before the outbreak, and they involved not just allies of Israel, but also countries with which the government in Jerusalem does not have diplomatic ties, like Syria and Iraq.

Israel’s ambassador to Cyprus, Sammy Revel, said the effort to bring the boy to Sheba required “special approval” from Jerusalem and coordination by Cyprus’s health ministry.

From 2013 to 2018, Israel maintained a program along the Syrian border allowing residents of the area, who were affected by the country’s civil war, to enter Israel for medical treatment. That effort formally ended in the summer of 2018 when Syrian dictator Bashar Assad took control of southern Syria.

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