Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Medical care for Palestinian children

Medical care for Palestinian children U.S. group arranges local and overseas treatment - Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service
Friday, March 2, 2007

(03-02) 04:00 PST Jebaliya Refugee Camp, Gaza -- Smiling and laughing, Oday el-Jamal was playing soccer in the garden when visitors came calling at the family home in the Jebaliya refugee camp north of Gaza City.

The handsome 7-year-old with unruly brown hair seemed not to have a care in the world -- until he removed his sneakers and rolled down his trousers to reveal a leg that ended in a fleshy stump just below his knee. The rest of his leg and the foot that moments before had been kicking a soccer ball across the yard was made from metal and plastic.

Oday's leg was blown off last September by shrapnel from an Israeli tank shell, which destroyed the house next door and sent jagged pieces of debris flying into his garden as he played there. His left foot was still intact, but only just, the bones twisted and deformed. His whole body was covered with angry pink craters, his young skin punctured by the deadly shards of metal.

This month, Oday will be in San Francisco, where doctors at UCSF Hospital will perform corrective surgery on his left foot and he will be fitted with a prosthetic right leg made just for him and taught how to use it.

"We thought he was dead," said his mother, Karima el-Jamal. "He was playing out in the garden and we heard an explosion, and next thing we knew the ambulance had rushed him off to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. When we got there, he was in intensive care. The doctors said it was touch and go.

After a few days, the little boy was transferred to Soroka, an Israeli hospital in Beersheba, where he remained for two months before he was transferred to Alyn, a specialist Israeli orthopedic center in Jerusalem.

"The Israeli doctors did everything for him. They operated on the wounds in his abdomen and tried to save his leg, but they couldn't," she said.

He was fitted there with a temporary artificial leg, which is already broken. Although the Israelis agreed to treat Oday, because of the political tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, he and his mother were unable to stay in Israel any longer. Back in Gaza, he cannot receive the care he needs to resume normal life.

His case came to the attention of the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, which contacted Walter Racette, director of orthotics and prosthetics in the UCSF department of orthopedic surgery. Racette agreed to donate the services required so Oday can be fitted with a prosthesis and learn to use his new leg. His mother will stay with Oday during his recovery.

Oday is just one of hundreds of Palestinian children to benefit from the work of the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, a charity based in Ohio that every year sends dozens of young patients in need of surgery to the United States and Europe, and brings in teams of specialist doctors to treat urgent cases in the West Bank and Gaza.

Last year, the charity raised close to $40 million. According to director Steve Sosebee, it has provided medical services worth more than $400 million, none of which was normally available to Palestinians.

One recent afternoon in Ramallah General Hospital in the West Bank, Dr. Aijaz Hashmi, a pediatric heart surgeon from Loma Linda University Children's Hospital in San Bernardino County, was inserting a catheter into the heart of Randa Abu Shamsiyeh, a 12-year-old girl from Hebron who was born with a heart defect that dramatically reduces the amount of oxygen in her blood.

"This should have been treated 10 years ago, and cannot be done here because they don't have the necessary post-operative care," said Hashmi, who was ending a whirlwind week of clinics and operations.

It was Hashmi's first time in the West Bank. He came with a team of doctors and nurses from Loma Linda who saw more than 130 heart patients in clinics in Jenin, Ramallah and Bethlehem, and performed eight procedures.

"It's extremely rewarding, very gratifying," he said. "If we don't do this, who else is going to do it? We're blessed that we can take the time off."

This article appeared on page A - 11 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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