The seven-month old girl was blue when she arrived from Gaza. A hole had formed in her heart and she was losing oxygen rapidly.
Her arrival at the Wilson Hospital in Israel, just south of Tel Aviv, had come just in time.
As her mother waited anxiously outside, surgeons with Israeli group Save A Child’s Heart worked to repair the damage. The team repaired the child’s heart, fitting a small pediatric valve that would expand as she grew in the coming years, reducing the need for follow-up surgeries.
After hours of surgery, color had returned to her cheeks.
“She’s now in recovery,” Jeff Hoffman, Co-President of Save A Child’s Heart’s American team, tells J Street from Israel. “She’ll stay a few more weeks and then return to Gaza.”
Over the last two decades, Save A Child’s Heart has performed more than 5,400 similar pediatric cardiac surgeries for children from over 60 developing nations, with approximately half their caseload consisting of Palestinian children from Gaza and the West Bank.
A non-political NGO, the organization has garnered support from across the political spectrum. Donations come from grassroots fundraisers as far afield as Denmark, Australia and Canada. Donor institutions have included the European Union and USAID, both of which recognize the group’s work not just as a humanitarian effort, but as a peacebuilding project.
“Although we’re a purely humanitarian organization, we’ve found that our impact has really extended beyond just the humanitarian side,” says Executive Director Rabbi David Litwack. “We always knew intuitively that we were having an impact upon Palestinian attitudes towards Israelis and visa versa.”
“When you have a Palestinian mother sitting next to an Israeli mother in a waiting room as their children are undergoing pediatric cardiac surgery, you have a bond that’s instantly created,” he tells J Street.