May 15, 2011, Updated September 12, 2012

Doctors at a Tel Aviv hospital arranged to have the child airlifted from Haiti for one of the rarest and most sophisticated heart operations in the world.

Haitian heart operation in Israel

Amy Mariolata had just two years to live when doctors from Sheba Medical Center stepped in to give her revolutionary heart surgery.

Even after journalists stopped covering news from the storm-ravaged island of Haiti, Israeli doctors from Israel’s Chaim Sheba Medical Center made a pledge to keep the Israeli humanitarian aid flowing.

Now, a 12-year-old Haitian girl recently went back home after one of the “most complicated, super-sophisticated, rare, lengthy, lifesaving heart operations in the world,” performed by surgeons at Sheba’s Children’s Hospital.

Both the $30,000 operation and transportation costs to and from Israel for the patient and her mother were covered by Sheba, which is situated at Tel Hashomer just outside Tel Aviv and is Israel’s largest medical center.

All-expense-paid journey to Israel

The story started with exotic diseases expert Dr. Eli Schwartz, who is volunteering at the clinic set up by Sheba personnel in Port-au-Prince. According to Dr. David Mishali, head of the Israeli hospital’s department of pediatric and congenital cardiothoracic surgery, Schwartz treats about 400 patients there every week.

Knowing Mishali from his intern days, Schwartz sent an email regarding Amy Mariolata, a young girl with rheumatic heart disease, a condition affecting the heart valves that left her with only a two-year life expectancy.

Under normal circumstances, the two diseased valves would be replaced by mechanical ones. But with little or no access to critical continuing care and pharmaceuticals in Haiti to maintain the artificial valves, this wasn’t an option, Mishali tells ISRAEL21c.

So with the support of Sheba CEO Dr. Zeev Rotstein, who “pulled a few strings to get the financial support,” as Mishali recalls, “eventually we managed to bring her here and we performed a very complex operation and it looks like it was very successful.”

Instead of using mechanical valves, Mishali’s team performed “quite a complicated surgery. One valve was replaced with the other, and one valve was repaired, and we ended up with nice results that can give her 20 or 30 years of a normal, quality life.”

Rivaling the best medical centers in the world

Pediatric rheumatic heart disease is believed to be caused by rheumatic fever, brought on by an immune system malfunction. It was the leading cause of death 100 years ago in the age group of five- to 20 year-olds in the United States. Worldwide, it remains a problem leading to some 90,000 deaths each year.

That’s one reason that for Mishali, life as a heart surgeon for children can be summed up as a “big excitement.” He says the Congenital Heart Center at Sheba’s Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital, established in 1952, rivals the best treatment facilities in the world and beats them in one regard: Every step of the way, from admission, to the operating room, to meetings with specialists, to checkout, are in the same location — making the experience less traumatic for the young patients and their families.

Recently, doctors at the Congenital Heart Center saved the life of a one-week-old infant with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (SGLS), using an unusual procedure available in few other countries. It relies on hybrid technology and two methods for correcting the deformity, resulting in less postoperative pain and faster recovery.

Is Mishali ever afraid of the responsibility of holding the beating heart of a child in his hands, a young life counting on his success or failure? Yes. “When I stop being afraid, I will quit,” says Mishali.

More on Life

Fighting for Israel's truth

We cover what makes life in Israel so special — it's people. A non-profit organization, ISRAEL21c's team of journalists are committed to telling stories that humanize Israelis and show their positive impact on our world. You can bring these stories to life by making a donation of $6/month. 

Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

Read more: