November 30, 2003, Updated September 13, 2012

Staff at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, Israel check one-week-old Iraqi infant Bayan Jassem. (AP)A one-week old Iraqi infant born with deadly heart defect has successfully undergone a life-saving operation in Israel, with the aid of the Israeli organization Save a Child’s Heart.

The ailing Iraqi girl, Bayan Jassem, born with a life-threatening heart defect, was recovering in an Israeli hospital this week following daylong emergency surgery last Tuesday at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon to repair reversed arteries in her heart.

Dr Sion Houri, head of the hospital’s intensive care unit, reported hours after the procedure: “The operation seems to have been successful. Her heart is working normally and she has been taken off the heart-lung machine. If all goes well, she should be able to go home in a month to six weeks.”

“It was, as expected, a long and complex operation. She’s now in the pediatric intensive care unit of the hospital and still described as critical but stable,” added Simon Fisher, the executive director of Save A Child’s Heart, an Israeli organization that since 1995, has flown in more than 500 children from foreign nations, as well as from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, for heart surgery at Wolfson hospital.

It was a unique exercise in co-operation between Christians, Muslims and Jews, Americans, Iraqis, Jordanians and Israelis. Bayan Jassem’s journey began in her hometown of Dakuk, near Kirkuk. There, the infant was diagnosed with a heart defect by an American military doctor who was screening local infants. If untreated, the defect, a congenital heart disease called Transposition of the Great Arteries (TGA), could be fatal. Iraq’s medical system has neither the expertise nor the equipment to treat the disease.

Jonathan Miles, an American who runs Shevet Achim, a Christian, Israel-based non-profit organization which provides medical services at Israeli medical centers for sick Arab children, heard about the baby and made the contact with the Save A Child’s Heart project.

Together they made the decision to immediately bring the infant to Israel to carry out the complex surgery. Split-second decisions between Iraqi doctors and their Israeli counterparts were made over US Army satellite phones, Bayan and her family were issued travel permits, and a flight was arranged. Iraqi officials’ alacrity in providing Bayan’s family travel permits for the journey to Israel via Jordan, might signal the future government’s willingness to normalize relations with Israel.

Akiva Tamir, the director of pediatric cardiology at the hospital instructed a doctor
in Baghdad over the phone on how to perform a minor operation on Jassem to stabilize her
condition before she flew with her parents to Amman, and then traveled by car to Israel.

The Jassems were met by Israeli doctors at the
entrance to the emergency room at Wolfson with the Arabic greeting “Salam alaikum,” or welcome. Tamir took the baby in his arms and carried her to a hospital bed, where he hooked her up to a heart monitor.

Moshe Mashiah, director of the Wolfson Medical
Center, said that as someone who immigrated
from Iraq in 1951, he is very excited by the possibility of aiding the Iraqi infant.

“I hope that the surgery will be successful and
that this baby girl will serve as a bridge
between the two peoples,” Mashiah told AP.

Dr Lior Sasson, the lead surgeon in the eight-hour operation at the Wolfson Medical Centre, near Tel-Aviv, is also the son of Jewish immigrants from Iraq.

Jasim and Iman Jassem, Bayan’s parents, Iraqis of Kurdish origin, left their one and a half year old son in Iraq with relatives. “I never imagined that I would ever come to Israel,” the excited father told Yediot Aharonot. “I was told in the past that Israel is a bad place, but now I see that people here are good and everyone wants to help.”

Fisher said that Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, have been offering the Jassems food, lodging and sympathy ever since they arrived.

“The parents have been surrounded by good people – they’ve all been coming and bringing them food, inviting them to their homes. I’ve been the bad guy, saying ‘no’ until we know how Bayan’s situation turns out,” he told ISRAEL21c.
“I would like to think this cooperation will become more widespread. It’s a good start, with such widespread cooperation between the U.S., Israel, Iraq and Jordan. We have Kurds from Iraq, Jews from Israel – everyone’s involved and working together. And the fact that Dr. Mashiah is from Iraq and Dr. Sasson’s family comes from Iraq demonstrates what a small world we’re living in.”

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