Saved as a baby and now saving children with heart disease; Meet Aklil, the Ethiopian nurse who returned to Israel 20 years after being saved by Israeli doctors to support lifesaving cardiac procedures for Ethiopian children
24 year-old Aklil was brought to Israel more than 20 years ago by Save a Child’s Heart to undergo lifesaving heart surgery. This year she returned to Israel with a group of 10 children from Ethiopia in need of urgent cardiac lifesaving procedures
Aklil was born in 1999 in Addis Abba, Ethiopia. As a baby Aklil’s mother had a hard time breastfeeding her. Aklil couldn’t suck and was often sick. Her parents kept taking her to the doctor and at the age of six months Aklil was diagnosed with congenital heart disease.
Aklil’s condition was complexed, she had a PDA; a vessel remaining open between the two main arteries of the body and a DSS; a membrane obstructing the left ventricle.
The family was referred to Save a Child’s Heart, but the medical team was concerned that the surgery she needed was very risky in her condition. At the end, the decision was made to bring little Aklil to Israel for open heart surgery, despite the high risk and complexity of her condition.
Aklil and her mother flew to Israel in 2001 with a group of 10 other children with heart disease. Aklil’s father stayed in Ethiopia to take care of her two sisters. The group was accompanied by nurse Salamnesh from Ethiopia. Aklil and Salamnesh developed a close connection that grew into a strong bond that still exists today.
Aklil underwent open heart surgery at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, just south of Tel Aviv. The surgery was successful and
Aklil recovered from it slowly. She and her mother stayed in Israel for six months, until the medical team was confident that she was safe to travel back home.
Her father could not believe it when they returned; he sent a very sick baby to Israel that could hardly function and received back a healthy and happy little girl. Akili could play with her friends and run around. She began school and every year when the Save a Child’s Heart team would come to Ethiopia for a medical mission her mother brought her for a follow up examination.
Aklil was deeply moved by the work of nurse Salamnesh and her personal journey, which inspired her to enroll in nursing school in Addis Abba. “Children are the purest thing. I know how it feels to be a sick child. Not being able to play and understanding that you are going to die if you won’t receive surgery” Aklil said. “Children can feel it, even if they are too young to actually understand it”.
Aklil graduated with honor from nursing school and started to work alongside nurse Salamnesh at the hospital in Addis Abba, the same nurse that escorted her to Israel more than 20 years ago. She developed a strong connection with the cardiac patients and with their parents.
In 2019, when the Save a Child’s Heart team came to Ethiopia to perform heart surgery and catheterizations with the local team, Aklil came to meet the doctors and nurses. She attended the Save a Child’s Heart reunion event that week and met many of the young adults who were also operated in Israel years ago.
When the opportunity to escort a group of sick children to Israel for heart surgery was offered, Aklil didn’t hesitate. She immediately volunteered for the project and met with all the children and parents who were scheduled to travel to Israel. She told them her story, answered all their questions, and reassured them that she will be there for them, exactly the same way that nurse Salamnesh was there for her more than 20 years ago.
In February 2023, Aklil began the journey to Israel, for the second time in her life, with a group of 10 children with heart disease. This time she was the escorting nurse.
“I am very grateful for what I underwent in Israel and for receiving a second chance at life. And I am thankful for the opportunity to give back to society and personally thank the doctors and nurses who saved me more than 20 years ago”. Akili said.
Dr Akiva Tamir, one of the co-founders of Save a Child’s Heart who was the head of pediatric cardiology at Wolfson Medical Center when Aklil underwent her surgery said: “I can’t find the words to describe my feeling seeing Aklil today. She has become a strong, heathy, and inspiring woman. Her decision to become a nurse and help save children with heart disease fills me with pride. These success stories – these children we saved who are today young adults who give back to society – provide us with so much energy to continue our humanitarian work, saving our world one heart at a time”.