A group of Israeli doctors have bypassed the region's politics to save thousands of Palestinian children and those from 57 other countries by operating on their diseased hearts.
Earlier this week, the doctors with Save a Child's Heart, an organization based in Holon just south of Tel Aviv, were honored at the United Nations, where Israeli positions have often clashed with those held by Arab member nations. But group co-founder Dr. Sion Houri said that when it comes to children's lives, "our activity is international, non-political and non-religious."
He and two fellow physicians, Lior Sasson and Akiva Tamir, accepted the UN Population Award Tuesday for saving young lives—especially in war-torn and developing lands.
The non-profit, funded mostly by private donors with some contributions from governments, has performed surgery on nearly 5,000 children since it was started about two decades ago, including more than 2,000 from the West Bank and Gaza and 300 from Iraq and Syria. The rest came from Africa, South America, Europe, Asia and throughout the Middle East.
At the moment, 44 children are being treated free-of-charge at the Edith Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.
The first patients in the 1990s were from Ethiopia, including a 15-year-old boy who lived in the streets with a life-threatening cardiac ailment. After recovering, he returned home and eventually opened a school for homeless street kids. Among them was a boy whom the school founder recently brought to Israel for his heart surgery.
"Many people might think that I'm naive, but we think treating a child with heart disease is like planting a seed of peace," said Sasson, the organization's lead surgeon.
Even though these children have heart conditions that are correctable, "the majority of them will die before the age of 20 as a result of the lack of facilities and doctors," the surgeon said.
Save a Child's Heart physicians are now training new teams of medical professionals to work in the West Bank, Ethiopia, Kenya, China, Romania, Moldova, Kenya and Tanzania.