When I first arrived at the SACH children’s home the first thing that struck me was the vibrancy and positivity of the volunteers and the children living there. From the bright pieces of artwork on the walls to the children running around outside, the home was more akin to a primary school than a home where children are either awaiting or recovering from major heart surgery.
Over the next two weeks working as a medical intern at the Wolfson Medical Centre I was lucky enough to gain an insight into the incredible work that this charity does on a day to day basis. On my second day I observed a coarctation of the aorta repair performed on an 11 day old Palestinian baby and also open heart surgery on 3 year old Muhammed, a cheeky little boy I had met the previous day at the home.
The team of doctors, nurses and anaesthetists were incredible mentors, explaining every case in detail and helping to make me feel like part of the team. Working alongside doctors, nurses and perfusionists from Ethiopia and Tanzania, training with SACH, was one of aspects that I found most inspiring about this charity. Not only are SACH helping individual children from across the globe but they are also training others to help set up infrastructures and improve medical care in these countries for generations to come. One perfusionist in training from Tanzania, Pietro, would openly talk about how motivated he was by Dr. Godwin, his friend and the first heart surgeon in Tanzania, trained by SACH. He was incredibly proud that he would be able to go home and work with him in a few years time, taking what he’d learnt in Israel to help save many more children. It was this passion and drive that the charity nurtured that I found most inspiring.
For me, the best part of the entire experience was living in the house with the children. On the day that I arrived I met Muhammed, a little boy from Ethiopia with an infectious smile. The next day I saw his surgery and then throughout the week I watched his recovery from the Paediatric ICU to the Intermediate ICU to the ward. During the second week, Muhammed came back to the SACH house where I spent my afternoons after finishing at the hospital playing with him and the other children. Seeing every aspect of his journey showed me that the work that SACH does is so much more than medical, it is also holistic, trying to give the children the best experience they can despite the trauma of their surgery and the difficulty of being so far from home.
I waited up with the other volunteers to say goodbye to the group from Gambia going home with healthy hearts, it was a bittersweet moment for everyone. There was a sadness that they were leaving but also an excitement that they were going home and a great happiness that they were all healthy. I was also there when three intelligent and witty children from Kenya arrived. I observed their ECHOs and watched them integrate quickly into the house with the other children. During my two weeks I was able to see every step in the children’s journey; their arrival, their surgery, their recovery and getting to go home at the end of it.
My advice to anyone spending time at SACH, either as a medical intern or volunteer, is to throw yourself into every moment of the experience. Ask questions at the hospital and learn, get to know each individual child because each has their own unique personality and, most importantly, smile because although everyone at the SACH home speaks different languages and comes from different cultures, smiling is universal.