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Medical Mission to Palestine

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  • Medical Mission to Palestine

    LLU staff makes medical mission trip to Palestine
    C.L. LOPEZ, Staff Writer
    Article Launched: 02/08/2007 08:00:13 PM PST

    LOMA LINDA - For the cost of lodging and airfare, Dr. Alexander Zouros was able to change lives.
    Zouros, a pediatric neurosurgeon based at Loma Linda University Medical Center, was one of a handful of staff from Loma Linda who made a trip with the Palestine Children's Relief Fund Jan. 9 to Jan. 19. They were among a group of doctors and nurses who performed specialty surgeries at Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem.

    It was Zouros' first time taking a medical mission trip and he performed surgeries on 10 children who had curved spinal cords and tethered spinal cords, spinal abnormalities that led to paralysis.

    "Now all these kids are able to look at a future being able to walk," Zouros said.

    Zouros plans to return to the hospital with the organization in the fall or winter.

    Airfare and lodging were paid for by the organization, and its CEO was with the doctors during parts of their visit, said Dr. Shamel Abd-Allah, a pediatric intensivist at Loma Linda University Medical Center, who also made the trip and led a team that performed cardiac surgeries.

    The organization has sponsored, organized and coordinated the trips since 1998 with the Ministry of Health in Palestine. Abd-Allah was part of a three-member team of American doctors who performed open-heart surgery on babies with congenital heart disease from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Dr. Adil Husain, a surgeon from the University of Florida, also led that team that included the Loma Linda-based medical technician Kholoud Nassar.
    "The organization was incredibly professional and for a change, we were practicing our specialties," said Abd-Allah. "All of us worked hard and they made sure we were happy."

    Though he has taken other trips, this was his first trip with the Palestine Children's Relief Fund. Abd-Allah said that sometimes doctors find themselves doing basic nursing care on the mission trips, but that was not the case on this trip.

    "All of us were doing the same thing we do here," he said.

    Abd-Allah and his team performed 13 open-heart surgeries.

    But it was a challenge.

    The hospital lacked equipment or doctors with the experience to perform specialized surgeries, said Abd-Allah. It was also a challenge for the young patients, who ranged in ages from one month to 12 years and came from all over Palestine.

    "Some even came with their grandparents because their parents didn't have permission to cross the Israeli checkpoints," said Munira Syeda, a communications coordinator with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Southern California. The children had to get invitations from hospital and go through several security checkpoints, adding hours onto the length of their trips to the hospital, said Abd-Allah.

    "There is a definite need," he said. "It is very difficult for Palestinian children to get this care."

    May Allah Bless them and ij3alna minhom

  • #2
    Doctors go a long way to treat kids
    Mona Shadia, Staff Writer
    Article Launched: 02/11/2007 12:00:00 AM PST

    When Hanen Diab was born 12 years ago in Ramallah in the Palestinian territories, doctors told her mother that she had a heart defect, but a specialist could find nothing wrong.
    A month ago, however, Hanen's heart began beating fast, her breathing was labored, and she tired easily.

    A doctor told her parents that she had a hole in her heart and must have open-heart surgery.

    "Wallah, it was a shock. All her life, she didn't have any side effects, but within a week, we found out she had to have a surgery," said her mother, Heam Reyahi.

    Hanen and her parents still live in Ramallah, where many are in need of medical attention but live without the resources or the means to be treated.

    Last month, when a group of doctors from Loma Linda University Children's Hospital wanted to lend a helping hand, Hanen and a dozen other children ranging in age from 2 weeks to 12 years had successful open-heart surgeries.

    The 13 children with heart defects requiring surgery were treated in Makassed Hospital in east Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives. Many more children were treated by the Loma Linda University doctors in Ramallah, including eight who had spine surgeries and one who had brain surgery.

    Travel for the doctors and the nurses was paid for by the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to providing medical care to children and adults around the Middle East.

    Every year, doctors from around the world travel to treat children in that region of the globe.

    "I'm not Palestinian, not an Arab, and I'm not a Muslim," said Dr. Alexander Zouros, an American of Greek descent and a pediatric neurosurgeon who performed the eight spine surgeries and the brain surgery.

    "I knew that there are people in need. I know the quality of care is not good. I know that some of the children had conditions that were neglected or could not be properly taken care of, and I was able to help nine children with one plane ticket."

    Until his trip, a neurosurgeon had never traveled to the Palestinian territories through the Palestine Children's Relief Fund.

    Asma Taha is a nurse practitioner who works with Zouros. Taha has been involved with the relief fund for many years. When she presented the idea of traveling to the Middle East to Zouros, he ran with it.

    Dr. Adil Husain, a surgeon from the University of Florida, Gainesville; Dr. Shamel Abd- Allah, a pediatric intensivist; and Dr. Aijaz Hashmi, a pediatric cardiologist from Loma Linda University Children's Hospital, performed many screenings, open-heart surgeries and aftercare for the Palestinian children.

    "It was a unique opportunity to practice my specialty and to see what was going on there," Hashmi said. "We hear so much on the news, it was an opportunity to see for myself. It was an eye-opener. It was also an opportunity to visit the holy sites."

    Abd-Allah has traveled to many countries, providing medical care and education. When he found out about , he committed to the trip.

    "I was impressed by their professionalism and long history of doing this type of medical relief in Palestine," Abd-Allah said, "and also I was impressed at how well they matched physician service with their specialty. In another word, they made sure I was practicing what I do every day here at Loma Linda,"

    Abd-Allah also had the opportunity to pray in the Al Quds mosque, one of the three holiest sites for Muslims around the world.

    Loma Linda perfusionist Kholoud Nassar said she learned so much from her experience in the Palestinian territories and her interactions with the people.

    "You don't have everything, but you manage to work with it and work with whatever equipments you have," Nassar said.

    Makassed Hospital is a specialized facility for Palestinians. However, Abd-Allah said, in order for Palestinians to get to the hospital, they must be invited and obtain permission from the Israeli forces and have health insurance or some other financial means. But even after following all the steps, they are sometimes turned away, he said.

    Travel in the region is often difficult. In the Israeli-occupied area, Palestinian travelers have to pass through checkpoints and show proof they have Israeli government permission to pass.

    Sometimes children are permitted to continue to the hospital, but parents must stay behind, Zouros said.

    "Even though Palestine is a small country, it may take up to five to seven hours to get to the hospital because of all the checkpoints," he said.

    Dalal Hawash, an 11-year-old girl, had a severe pulmonary valve stenosis - a very tight narrowing in one of the heart valves. Though the equipment was available at Makassed Hospital in east Jerusalem and Dr. Hashmi was willing to travel with the patient, obtaining insurance and permission to cross checkpoints was too much of a burden for the family.

    But with the hospital's help, equipment was transferred from Makassed Hospital to Ramallah Government Hospital, and the procedure was performed.

    Dalal and her parents waited a year for the procedure before Hashmi traveled to the Palestinian territories last month.

    Dalal's mother, Hala Khaleel, couldn't be happier with the doctors who helped save her daughter's life.

    "Wallah, we thank our Lord first, and we thank the doctors and the nurses for their efforts," Khaleel said. "I thank all the people that came to help us."

    Dalal and her family live in Nablus/Beta. Khaleel said the Israeli forces often enforce a curfew in the village, stopping everyone from leaving their homes, going to work, to school or even to get food.

    "Sometimes they come and give us curfew - we're just living this way. We got used to it. Every two weeks or every month or every two months and sometimes every day - they don't have a set time," Khaleel said.

    The doctors who traveled to the Palestinian territories saved lives, but one of them also gained a new perspective.

    "It's very easy to become polarizedIt's very easy to see things through a perspective of one side of the conflict. Sometimes the Western media tell one side of the story, and it's interesting to be able to experience what life is like on the other side."


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