A Strong Heartbeat for a New Life

Shadia, only two weeks old, is on her way to Israel for a heart operation. Through the checkpoints and into another world: it’s not an easy journey.

Sister Lucia puts down the telephone. It’s time. The call was from the reception desk. An ambulance is waiting at the main entrance: it’s there to take two-week-old Shadia to Jerusalem for her heart operation – at least part of the way. Shadia‘s mother Rubaa wraps her little girl in blankets and takes her in her arms. Sister Lucia accompanies them down the stairs. Outside the building, the ambulance personnel take Shadia and lay her on a gurney. Rubaa is relieved. If everything goes well, this will be the beginning of the end of Shadia’s suffering. 

Rubaa had been worried ever since Shadia’s birth. She was quieter than a baby should be, and often just lay there. When her skin started turning blue, the young mother immediately took the child and set out for Bethlehem. To the doctors in the out-patient clinic, Shadia had all the classic symptoms of a heart defect. On the ultrasound image, the pediatric cardiologist could see that one heart valve was not closing properly. For medical science today, the surgery to correct this condition is routine: but it is only done in Israel – behind the wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem. Caritas Baby Hospital arranges heart operations in Israel about 50 times a year. Assisted by a variety of partner organizations, Children’s Relief Bethlehem arranges financing and applies for the necessary authorizations for the child and the mother. 

Changing vehicles at the roadside

The ambulance drives to the main highway connecting the Israeli settlements on the West Bank with Jerusalem. But just before the intersection, the ambulance pulls off the road and waits – waits for the Israeli ambulance that will take Rubaa and Shadia to Jerusalem. Only an Israeli vehicle can travel on the settlement highway; only an Israeli vehicle can get through the checkpoints.

When the ambulance from East Jerusalem arrives, the drivers hold a short conference. “It’s looking good today,” says Ibrahim, the driver of the Jerusalem ambulance. Rubaa gets in quickly with Shadia. 

Only a few hundred meters further, they reach the Israeli checkpoint. 

The vehicle from East Jerusalem – the Arab part of the city – is flagged down and checked. Two soldiers look in, order the occupants to open a few packages, and check Rubaa’s papers. Everything is in order: they may drive on. Even though the checkpoint is an everyday experience for Ibrahim, he breathes a sigh of relief: it isn’t always this easy. Rubaa sees this as a good sign. A half-hour later, they arrive at the Makassed Hospital on the Mount of Olives. It is evening already, and little Shadia goes to sleep as soon than she is brought to her room. Early tomorrow morning, she is the first patient on the operating room schedule. Rubaa cannot sleep. Her eyes wander over the roofs of Jerusalem’s Old City. This is the first time she has been in Israel in 15 years, but she has no eye for the city’s beauties. She only wants one thing: to drive back to Bethlehem with a healthy Shadia. That will be in three days – if things go well.