This was a joint Israeli-Ethiopian effort to save children’s lives and to support the Ethiopian team, led by Dr. Yayu Mekonnen, who completed five years of training in Israel and recently returned to Ethiopia to begin his work at the Children’s Cardiac Center. Representatives from SACH US joined the mission to assist the team and gain greater insight into and understanding of the work performed by SACH and their Ethiopian partners.. During the eight-day mission, the Israeli and Ethiopian medical teams worked together, teaching, sharing skills and jointly saving the lives of 31 children - complete with 9 open heart surgeries and 22 catheterizations - and screened and diagnosed more than 100. The full list of children attached. Furthermore, this mission concluded with a reunion event with more than 100 former SACH patients and their families in celebration of 25 years of joint cooperation and more than 700 Ethiopian children treated during these years.
A Team Effort
This mission was carried out by a team of 27 medical personnel from the Wolfson Medical Center and Save a Child’s Heart staff, alongside an Ethiopian medical team from the Children’s Cardiac Center. Leading the Israeli delegation were SACH co-founders Dr. Akina Tamir (cardiology) and Dr. Lior Sasson (cardiac surgery), as well as Dr. Alona Raucher, Head of Pediatric Cardiology, Dr. Sagi Assa, Head of Pediatric Interventional Cardiology, Dr. Racheli Sion Sarid, Senior Pediatric Intensive Care Specialist and Dr. Andrey Gluch, Anesthetist. Working with them were head nurses Nava Gershon (pediatric surgical department), Chaya Musseri (surgery), Svetlana Katsovich (invasive cardiology), and Irena Nusol (PICU). Dr. Anat Engel, Director of the Wolfson Medical Center also joined the mission for several days to experience Save a Child’s Heart’s global work, in situ and first-hand.
The Ethiopian team was led by Dr. Yayu Mekonnen who recently returned to Ethiopia after a five-year training program under the auspices of Dr. Lior Sasson at the Wolfson Medical Center and 1.5 years on a fellowship at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne. Dr. Yayu is Ethiopia’s first-ever fully-trained pediatric cardiac surgeon. Also on staff was Dr. Habtamu Sime who completed a two-year training program as an intensivist at the Wolfson Medical Center in Israel through Save a Child’s Heart.
The Mission Begins
The dedication of both teams was evident as all began with enthusiasm early the next morning. While doctors screened 37 patients, 2 life-saving catheterizations were performed. Of course, throughout the mission, Israeli doctors and nurses provided the Ethiopian team with ongoing formative and informative training, which added a new dimension to the mission. Throughout the week, both teams worked diligently performing, on average, two surgeries and four catheterizations each day..
The fifth catheterization procedure was performed on day 2 (18/11) on one-year-and-eight-month-old Bemnet, a beautiful little girl who was accompanied by both her mother, Frehiewot, and father, Yonas. Bemnet was diagnosed at 2 months old with pulmonary stenosis, a condition characterized by obstruction to blood flow from the right ventricle to the pulmonary artery. This obstruction is caused by narrowing (stenosis) at one or more points from the right ventricle to the pulmonary artery.
For the past year, we have been coming to the hospital every few weeks, very worried about what will happen to Bemnet. And today we are told that there is hope and she will undergo a lifesaving catheterization this week. I am so happy and grateful.
Bemnet’s father, Yonas
Audiences around the world followed Bemnet’s story from hospitalization and recovery to her discharge from the hospital and life back at home. On Wednesday, Bemnet and her family returned home while the doctors and nurses of Save a Child’s Heart continued to perform life-saving operations. The US team had the unique opportunity to visit Bemnet at home following her procedure, where they were met with profuse thanks and gratitude from both parents and Bemnet’s grandmother.
While doctors worked assiduously, a press conference was held at the hospital with various media outlets in attendance. Israeli ambassador to Ethiopia, Ambassador Raphael Morav, also visited the hospital on this day and later greeted the Israeli and American team at his residence for a reception in recognition of Save a Child’s Heart’s ongoing contribution to the global partnership between Ethiopia, Israel, and their peoples.
On the final day at the mission, the Israeli and Ethiopian teams, as well as members of SACH US paused to acknowledge this groundbreaking moment in Ethiopian pediatric cardiac care history. Inspired by a week of successful life-saving activities, everyone shared in celebrating.
After their time at the mission site, the US team traveled to the outskirts of Addis Ababa to meet Bemnet’s family. There, they were welcomed with a traditional Ethiopian meal and unending expressions of thanks by Bemnet’s parents and grandmother. Just days after her life-saving catheterization procedure, Bemnet’s parents shared their enthusiasm for their daughter’s care and recovery. Later that evening, the Israeli and American teams enjoyed a Shabbat dinner together at the Hilton Hotel.
Include Reunion recap
At the end of the very successful mission in Ethiopia, more than 120 past patients came together for a very special Save a Child’s Heart Reunion with guest speakers: President of Save a Child’s Heart Africa, Mr. Haim Taib, Ambassador of Israel to Ethiopia, H.E. Raphael Morav, the Director-General of Wolfson Medical Center, Dr. Anat Engel, and President of SACH US, Dr. Jeff Hoffman. Over 700 Ethiopian children have traveled to Israel for heart procedures through as more than 120 former patients, families, and team members embraced, it was cause for celebration. It was remarkable to see women, now mothers to their own children, who had been saved by Save a Child’s Heart more than 20 years ago. Likewise, it was exciting to reunite and dance with recent patients from just a few years ago, who came to SACH under difficult circumstances and now could lead normal and healthy lives, back home. The reunion also provided an opportunity to highlight and honor four major actors in the development of Save a Child’s Heart’s relationship with Ethiopia including, Dr. Etsegenet Gedlu, Professor Abraham Haileamlak, Nurse Selamnesh Teklehaymanot, and Dr. Belay Abegaz, as well as Dr. Akiva Tamir who worked hand in hand with Ami to treat SACH’s first-ever patients, from Ethiopia.
Updates on former patients below:
Weyneshet Regassa is 34 years old and had surgery in 2005 in Israel. She found SACH because her father brought her to Black Lion and she had luckily was brought to Israel. Now she has a BA in Technology and is working for the government. She is engaged and planning to be married next year.
Gifti came with a whole group of women who had surgery in Israel when they were teenagers. Today she is a pediatric emergency room nurse. She says she was inspired to become a nurse because of her time in Israel
Ebinuf was brought to Israel two years ago. After a very complicated case and life-saving surgery, his mother told us that he is doing really well and is always playing and running around.
Congratulations and thank you to the amazing medical team If Save a Child’s Heart who have been serving the people of Ethiopia for more than 25 years.
Feedback from Alana Entin, former volunteer, and US YL :
Some of the biggest takeaways from the trip were feelings of pride, hard work and humility. To begin with, the Israeli medical team worked 8 straight days and nights, did 9 open heart surgeries and 22 catheterizations. When I saw them back at the hotel in normal clothes for dinner, I was so proud to be a part of the same mission as them. I couldn’t help but think about how they looked like ordinary people eating dinner, but what they had done earlier that day was beyond extraordinary.
The sustainability of an organization like SACH is so amazing. The longstanding relationship between Ethiopia and Israel, patients and doctors was so evident. It’s not just a group of people taking over, instead, there was a succinct and careful way each team member interacted with their counterpart. The Ethiopian team worked so hard and so consistently to make sure every procedure ran smoothly and every child was taken care of in the most perfect way possible. This mission not only made me proud to be a young leader but also excited for the future of
SACH and other international bodies. After having volunteered at the children’s home in Holon twice, I had a tiny sneak peek into the richness of Ethiopian coffee and the depth of the culture.
Actually going to Ethiopia overpowered those notions in all the best ways possible. I felt so invited, welcomed, and taken care of. I loved hearing words, phrases, and even songs that I had heard before in Israel. I loved seeing healthy children who had come to Israel even just a few years back to have their lives saved. I loved hearing from the mothers and parents who beamed as they spoke about their healthy children. Finally, I loved seeing the huge difference that SACH
makes and has made in the lives of all the patients, families, doctors and volunteers. And even though my heart wasn’t fixed by SACH doctors, it has grown immensely because of everyone involved in SACH. I owe so many thanks to everyone who put this mission together and worked so tirelessly for all the amazing outcomes.