There has never been a moment in my life when I did not know how to answer the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The answer has always been: a pediatrician. I have known from a young age that it is my calling to work with children, and as I have grown older I have realized that I am meant to accomplish this through medicine. When I was 16 years old, I visited Save a Child’s Heart on a high school NCSY summer program. As an aspiring pediatrician, this visit was extremely touching; with wide eyes, I watched as volunteers from all over the world played with the children and brought joy to them during difficult times (as most children were either preparing for or recovering from heart surgery). I also noticed how tired their mothers and nurses were, and I was amazed by how the volunteers were able to alleviate some of their stress and provide a helping hand. Along with the other teenagers on my program, I got to spend time with the children that day - their bright smiles and contagious laughter left a lasting impression on me. From that moment on, SACH has held a warm place in my heart, and I always looked forward to the day when I could come back to Israel to give back to such a noble cause.
Towards the end of my last year at the University of Oregon, I began thinking about how I could spend my gap year while applying to medical school. In light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, most clinical opportunities in the United States were shut down due to public safety concerns. While necessary, this shut-down prevented me from gaining formative insight through hands-on experience. The silver lining to the shut-down, though, was the opportunity to investigate different routes towards my dream of becoming a doctor. In my search, I stumbled upon a volunteer program with Magen David Adom, Israel’s National Emergency and Blood Services Organization, specifically suited for overseas volunteers. This fateful discovery could not have come at a more perfect time in my life. So, I packed my bags and moved to Israel for 4 months to volunteer as a first responder on the Magen David Adom ambulances. During one of my shifts, we came to the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, and due to its partnership with SACH, I was reminded of my visit to the SACH house back in 2017. I emailed Danielle, the International Young Leadership Director and volunteer coordinator, as soon as I came home, and began volunteering with SACH a month later. I realized that despite all of the challenges that COVID-19 brought upon us, fate had brought me back to SACH and led me to volunteering with this amazing organization.
Every week that I came to the SACH house, I knew that I was contributing to a selfless effort to give children the medical treatment they need and deserve. Despite the language barrier between me and some of the children, I felt a true connection to them as we spent time playing music and doing art projects together. Each shift, I was greeted with big hugs and smiles, and we learned to communicate through universal body language (with gestures such as “thumbs up”, pointing to objects, etc). The children that could speak English shared pieces of home with me, teaching me words in their mother tongues and sharing stories of life back at home. With each passing day, my desire to become a pediatrician was strengthened. Because I did Zumba in college, I loved leading dance parties for the children, and I found that moving their bodies with joy was very healing, for both the children and for their caretakers. I also learned so much about cultures different from my own when I interacted with the mothers and nurses of the children. In these interactions, it was rewarding knowing that I was helping the parents of the SACH kids, and not just the children themselves. Oftentimes, when a child is in pain, their parent feels this pain on an even stronger level; as such, parents need a shoulder to lean on during difficult times. I am thankful to have been a part of their support system.
I left each volunteering shift with a heart full of gratitude - gratitude to SACH for giving me the opportunity to be a volunteer and for taking care of so many children in need, and to the medical staff of Wolfson Medical Center for providing life-saving procedures for these kiddos. I will never forget the sheer delight in one child’s eyes, Kidos from Ethiopia, as he told me: “I got my surgery! I get to go home!”. This formative experience, volunteering at the SACH house, will stay with me for the rest of my life. I learned that the most valuable healing can happen even without any medical tools. I discovered more about myself and the kind of doctor I am meant to be. As a physician, not only is it important to understand the medical needs of your patient, but it is also critical to understand their background as a person, to care for them beyond the boundaries of science on a deeper, more human level. Volunteering with SACH helped me strengthen this invaluable skill. I cannot wait to continue passing on that same love and care to children that I experienced with SACH in the future, when I become a pediatrician.