With cardiac surgery, Israeli team saves Afghani boy’s life

Unlikely Facebook friendship crossing enemy lines leads to lifesaving treatment for baby born with heart defects

Doctors at Wolfson Medical Center perform open heart surgery (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Doctors at Wolfson Medical Center perform open heart surgery (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

A baby boy born in Afghanistan with multiple heart defects received life-saving surgery in Israel thanks to a Facebook friendship and a covert operation that traversed enemy borders and diplomatic lines.

Yehia was born to Afghani parents in Peshawar, Pakistan, with major heart defects, The New York Times reported. His parents had no way of paying for the surgery needed to save his life.

During a trip to their homeland they spoke with an English-speaking relative, Farhad Zaheer, living in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, who reached out on social media to his contacts. Anna Mussman, 69, a daughter of Holocaust survivors living in Israel, answered his call. According to the Times report, Zaheer remembered Mussman because she had commented kindly on his previous posts.

Mussman contacted Simon Fisher, executive director of the Israeli charity Save a Child’s Heart. “I realize helping a child from a country which Israel has no diplomatic relations is not easy, but perhaps possible,” she emailed him. “Thanks so much and Shabbat Shalom.”

It was not simple to arrange, and involved calling in all sorts of favors and using many different contacts, but ultimately Yehia was brought to Holon’s Wolfson Medical Center, and was operated on in an eight-hour surgery.

Yehia’s family members did not want to give their last name out of fear of reprisals for having sought treatment in Israel. Yehia is the first Afghan to have been treated by Save a Child’s Heart, joining children from over 50 other countries who have been saved by the organization.

Save a Child’s Heart, whose $3.5 million annual budget is covered mostly by private Jewish donors, has saved the lives of over 4,000 children. Half of the patients come from Gaza and the Palestinian Authority. It has also saved hundreds of lives in, among other countries, Nigeria, Zanzibar and Tanzania, China, Iraq and Ethiopia.

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