Iraqi girl undergoes major heart surgery in Israeli hospital

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The Independent Online

Israeli surgeons operated yesterday to save the life of Bayan Jassem, a week-old Iraqi girl with a congenital heart defect that could not be treated in her own country.

It was a unique exercise in co-operation between Christians, Muslims and Jews, Americans, Iraqis, Jordanians and Israelis. Dr Lior Sasson, the lead surgeon in the eight-hour operation at the Wolfson Medical Centre, near Tel-Aviv, is the son of Jewish immigrants from Iraq.

Dr Sion Houri, head of the hospital's intensive care unit, said last night: "The operation seems to have been successful. Her heart is working normally and she has been taken off the heart-lung machine. If all goes well, she should be able to go home in a month to six weeks."

The story began in the Kurdish city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. A doctor attached to the United States forces found that Bayan's arteries were transposed and he warned that if the condition was not corrected by the time she was two weeks old, she would die. No operation of its kind had been attempted in Iraq.

The doctor called on Jonathan Miles, the head of Light to the Nations, an American Christian charity which helps Palestinian refugee children from Gaza to get medical treatment in Israel. Mr Miles turned to an Israeli charity, Save a Child's Heart, which brings African and Asian children to the Wolfson hospital for surgery. Of the 900 patients treated over the past five years, a third were Palestinians.

By Friday, Israeli and Iraqi cardiologists were talking on a conference line. Bayan was taken to Baghdad, where an Iraqi surgeon performed a preliminary operation.

Mr Miles then flew with Bayan and her parents on a relief shuttle to Amman. After a 72-hour stopover, they drove from Jordan to Israel over the King Hussein Bridge. Save a Child's Heart put up the parents in its hostel, 10 minutes drive from the hospital.

After the operation, Mr Miles said: "I didn't believe it would be possible to get her here, but somehow God gave me the courage to try. We're thankful when we can bring people together to save the life of a child. We hope it will also build bridges between Arabs and Jews."

Bayan's father, Jassem Abdullah, said: "People say Israel is bad but we've been treated very well here. We thank the doctors."