HAMILTON — One out of every 100 babies throughout the world is born with a congenital heart defect, often a problem that can be repaired, but in many countries, there are no physicians to perform the surgery.
Save a Child’s Heart (SACH), an Israeli-based, non-profit organization, provides urgent cardiac surgery for infants and children from underprivileged areas, at no cost.
Since 1995, SACH has performed more than 2,800 surgeries on children from 42 countries. It also trains medical personnel in developing countries to do proper followup with the children. The goal is to train physicians and thus establish centres of competence within these countries.
For example, Ethiopia, with a population of 83 million, has three pediatric cardiologists, two of whom were trained by SACH. Not one pediatric cardiac surgeon lives in Ethiopia, however, and SACH is now training a pediatric cardiac surgeon.
The cost for each child’s operation is $10,000, which includes hospitalization, local transportation and room and board at the SACH home for recuperation.
When Dr. Lorne Finkelstein, chair of the Hamilton Jewish Federation’s public relations committee, learned about SACH, he wanted to find a way the community could help. The committee decided to bring the SACH international photography exhibition, From Art to Heart, to Hamilton to foster awareness of the program and raise funds for SACH Canada.
The exhibition, which was on display for one night at Beth Jacob Synagogue May 16, provides a glimpse of the children, families, doctors and nurses as they go through these life-changing journeys.
“We believe strongly in promoting pro-Israeli efforts,” Finkelstein said. “Israel helps these children regardless of their nationality, race, religion or colour. The benevolence in Israel to help people, even from what is considered enemy territory, puts a lie to the idea that Israel is an apartheid country.”
The Hamilton Jewish Federation had hoped to raise at least $5,000. Instead, the community donated $27,980. The funds raised will go toward treating a four-year-old from the West Bank and another child from Ethiopia.
Members of the Hamilton community were so moved by the photos and presentations from SACH that $6,000 of the total funds raised were pledged after the exhibit was shown. This included a donation from the city’s Black History Committee.
“It’s a very worthy cause. It helps children around the world,” said Evelyn Myrie, Black History Committee chair. “It agrees with the values we hold dear – giving a hand up regardless of race, creed or background."
Also among the donors were the physicians from the pediatric cardiology group at McMaster Childrens Hospital. One of them, Dr. Dragos Predescu, also committed to using two of his four weeks of vacation to donate his time and expertise to SACH.
“I figure with money, you just give once and that’s it,” Predescu said. “I thought this was a better way to give.”
SACH was started by Dr. Amram Cohen, who immigrated to Israel from the United States in 1992. He joined the staff of the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon and served as deputy chief of cardiovascular surgery and head of pediatric cardiac surgery. In 1995, Cohen agreed to bring two Ethiopian children to Israel to be operated on by the staff, without pay, but with the approval of the hospital administration.
Today, 70 physicians and nurses volunteer their time to perform these surgeries and often travel to other countries to visit children and train medical personnel. Forty-five per cent of the children are from the Palestinian Authority, Iraq and Jordan, 43 per cent are from Africa, seven per cent are from China, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, and five per cent are from the former Soviet Union and Europe.
Karen Diamond, executive director of SACH Canada thanked everyone for their support. “We are deeply grateful to the Hamilton community and Hamilton Jewish Federation for their generous financial support,” she said, “and we were overwhelmed by the numbers who attended the reception, as well as the diversity of the crowd.
“Save a Child’s Heart represents the best of who we can be as human beings, and in a world that too often focuses on the negative, it is our responsibility to spread the story of Save a Child’s Heart.”