“He who saves a life, saves a whole world.” – The Talmud.
When I arrived at the Wolfson Medical Center for my first day of my medical internship with Save a Child’s Heart (SACH), I immediately noticed the sign outside of the pediatric ICU with this quote on it and it resonated with me throughout my entire internship.
Over the past number of weeks, I had a chance to have some incredible educational and inspiring experiences in the operating room, in ECHO clinic, in the catheterization lab, in the research office and at the SACH Children’s Home. I was very fortunate to learn from and develop relationships with Dr. Tamir, Dr. Sasson, Dr. Dekel, Dr. Houri, Dr. Assa and Dr. Sternfeld-Raucher, who are all amazing clinicians and teachers. They were wonderful mentors who took the time to explain patient cases and concepts to me and the other medical interns while also answering our many questions. I also had the privilege as a medical intern to interact and have an amazing time developing relationships with the children living in the SACH house and being treated at Wolfson. I developed friendships will other medical students and volunteers from all over the world. Overall, my medical internship with SACH was incredible, and is something that I would recommend to any other medical student looking to get international medical experience!
One of the most meaningful parts of my medical internship was the relationships that I was able to develop with the international fellows completing their medical training in Israel. Whether it was in the operating room with Yayu, Vivienne, Tamar, Tolesa and Peter, or clinic with Demeke and Habtamu, it was a fantastic opportunity to learn about their families, their lives and their education back home in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Georgia. It was a special opportunity to both learn from them and learn alongside them during their training, and something that wouldn’t be possible without this component of SACH’s organizational mission.
One of the most integral parts of the work that Save a Child’s Heart does in Israel is the training of foreign medical personnel in order to increase the overall capacity to treat congenital and rheumatic heart disease through ‘Centers of Competence’ around the world. Of course, the surgeries and treatment that are provided in Israel by the Israeli medical staff, and the fellows, are vital to the success of the organization. But, there is a limit to the work that can be done in Israel and on medical missions. The organization has already trained a full team of medical personnel in China, and has already trained Tanzania’s first cardiac surgeon. While approximately 250 children are treated per year by SACH in Israel, the training of the foreign medical staff is vital to the sustainability and growth of the SACH program, and even more, to the provision of medical treatment to children in their home countries over the long-term.
Early in my internship, one memory that stands out to me while developing my relationship with a few of the doctors was when Demeke, Tolesa, Habtamu, Peter and I watched the Iceland-Portugal Euro-Cup game in the house one evening. We joked about cheering for the underdog from our “home country” of Iceland, even though we are from Ethiopia, Tanzania and Canada respectively. But we were able to bond through our common interest in sports and we sustained the Iceland joke throughout my entire stay. We also spent numerous nights relaxing in the house and spending time with the kids in the evening. Their dedication to becoming the best physicians that they can be is readily apparent, whether it is through their professionalism at the hospital with the Israeli medical staff, in their interactions with the children being treated, and in their drive for learning and self-improvement, knowing that they will be on the front line of medical care upon their return home.
One of my favourite days during my internship was when I spent I spent the entire day in clinic with Demeke, from Ethiopia, and is training to be a Pediatric Cardiologist. We were together in the Palestinian ECHO and follow-up clinic, which takes place every Tuesday for children from Gaza and the West Bank, we went for lunch together, and we visited a few patients who needed follow-up ECHOs in the wards of the hospital. We were able to talk about each of our career goals, about our mutual interest in medical education and about our families back home.
I would encourage every future medical intern, and also full-time volunteers living in the house, to take the initiative to learn and laugh with these amazing individuals during your time with SACH. They each have a unique perspective to offer, whether it is about medicine, family, humanitarian work, hobbies, or relationships. I hope to keep in touch with all of them upon my return back to Toronto and to see them again whether it is in Israel, at a future medical conference, or on a visit to one of their home countries. Before I left the house a few nights ago, I told each of them that this isn’t goodbye, it’s only see you later (or להתראות in Hebrew).
They each have a big task ahead of them back in their home countries in their future roles as cardiac surgeons, pediatric cardiologists, anesthesiologists, intensivists, and perfusionists. After getting to know all of them, I know that they each are up to the task, both due to their personal drive and their first-class training by the SACH staff at Wolfson. Even more, I know how lucky the children are in these countries to have these amazing individuals serve as their physicians and role models.
I am excited to see the number of lives, and worlds, that they will able to change and positively impact over their careers in continuing the overall mission of Save a Child’s Heart!