HOLON, Israel, May 7, 2020 — Hamza Ali Mohammed was born with life-threatening congenital heart disease and had his first surgery as an infant. The Save a Child's Heart (SACH) medical team decided a few months ago that he needed a second surgery to survive. On February 24, 2020, Hamza underwent open-heart surgery at Wolfson Medical Center (WMC) in Holon, Israel, by the SACH volunteer medical team.
His recovery from this surgery was very complicated. "We tried to extubate Hamza a few times after his surgery, but he had a hard time breathing by himself. We had to connect him to an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine, and it kept him alive for a few weeks," said Dr. Racheli Sion Sarid, a senior physician in the pediatric intensive care unit at Wolfson. He was very close to death several times. “ I was sure he wouldn’t make it, but every time, somehow, it felt like some kind of a miracle. There is some kind of magic with these children.”
In addition to the huge challenge of keeping Hamza alive through this period, the medical team had to face another major difficulty, Hamza's parents, who went home to the West Bank city of Ramallah for a short visit to see Hamza's siblings, could not return to Israel due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
"The whole medical team in the Pediatric Cardiology unit became his parents," said Dr. Ahmed Amer, a pediatric resident at WMC. Dr. Amer, an Israeli-Arab physician who is part of the SACH medical team, became the main contact person for Hamza's parents since he speaks Arabic. "We all became his family. The nurses did shifts to hold him in their arms and play with him. We did not keep him alone for a minute. A child his age and in his condition needs to be hugged and loved in order to recover and get stronger, and that's exactly what we did."
Dr. Amer spoke with Hamza's parents every day, sent them pictures and videos, and updated them on his recovery: “I have direct communication with his mom, and we’ve been speaking. She misses him like only a mother can miss her child. She feels every moment of his absence. Now, she’s going to have her child back.”As Hamza's condition improved, he was able to communicate with his parents through video calls:
"The first few times he saw them on video he began crying and it took us a long time to calm him down," said Dr. Amer, "But he got used to it and we even celebrated his birthday a couple of weeks ago together with his parents on video.”
After the COVID lockdown was initiated, Hamza recovered and was set to go home and the SACH team was ready to escort Hamza to greet his parents. On May 7 at 10AM Hamza left the hospital, accompanied by both Dr. Racheli and Dr. Ahmed. Together, they traveled to the Hizma checkpoint, where Hamza’s parents waited to be reunited with their son.
In tears, Hamza’s mother thanked the medical team, “We are so grateful for the care you all gave us, the expertise, the high level of expertise, skill, humanity, and conscience.”
"His story is amazing," says Dr. Racheli. "It is a story about a medical team who fought tirelessly for the life of a critically ill child, a story of a brave little boy who survived against all odds, and a story of people, of human beings, helping each other regardless of their origin and religion. This is the story of Save a Child's Heart.”