Majed Ra’uf: All I want is to return to live a normal life – to work, to get married, to visit my friends – to be free.Perched quietly on a hospital bed in the cardiac unit at Schneider Children’s Medical Center, Majed Ra’uf looks like he could be a parent of one of the many Israeli children who are treated there. The 26 year old is fully dressed in a shiny polyester brown shirt and neat slacks.
But on closer inspection, the IV unit taped onto his hand gives away the fact that he is actually a patient.
Ra’uf, an Iraqi Kurd, traveled from his city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq to the Israeli hospital in Petah Tikva for a rare heart operation performed on January 6 by expert physicians at the hospital that he says simply “has given me a new life.”
Ra’uf has suffered his entire life from a complex heart disorder – the continuous narrowing of the valve in the right ventricle and a hole between the chambers of the heart. And according to doctors, it’s something of a miracle that he was able to live to survive to the age of 26.
“Majed is lucky to have lived until today,” explained Prof. Bernardo Vidne, Director of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Schneider, who performed the operation. “We usually perform surgery to repair this defect in children up to the age of a year. It is impossible to live this way for a long time.”
The disorder, when untreated, usually kills those who suffer from it at a far younger age. But although he survived, Ra’uf’s family could not afford the cost of the operation, and so he had to live with a defective heart that couldn’t adequately pump blood through his body and left him, literally, blue in color.
He was forced to stop attending school in the third grade, and ever since, hardly ever left his home.
“I was tired, desperate, and depressed,” he told ISRAEL21c six weeks after his life-saving operation. “I couldn’t go anywhere, I couldn’t do anything.”
But thanks to the war in Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein, new hope was brought to him. Immediately after the war, a Christian pro-Israel organization called Shevet Ahim, had located and brought two little Iraqi girls to Schneider for heart surgery. One, a small baby named Bayan, sadly died shortly after her operation. But the second, a two-year-old girl named Kawther returned to Kirkuk.
She and her family stayed in touch with Ralli Hayou, a 71-year-old Israeli volunteer – an Iraqi Jew who moved to Israel in the 1950s – and who had helped and supported them during their stay in Israel. Kawther’s family told Hayou about Ra’uf’s plight and asked him if he could contact Shevet Ahim on his behalf.
Fortunately, Shevet Ahim took his case on, and arranged for his entrance to Israel and his surgery at Schneider.
Ra’uf’s father – Ra’uf Ra’uf – accompanied him on the journey to Israel via Jordan. In his delicate condition, the journey itself was risky. But they arrived safely at Schneider, where they say they were received warmly by the staff. They were particularly grateful for the friendship of Hayou, the same volunteer who had assisted the other Iraqi families, and who came to offer them assistance and support every day.
“It is very nice for me to meet someone from Iraq. We speak the same language, we connected, and we will surely stay in contact,” said Hayou.
Following the surgery, Ra’uf had difficulty hiding his excitement, anticipating the improvement in the quality of his life. “All I want is to return to live a normal life – to work, to get married, to visit my friends – to be free.”
The elder Ra’uf, who has been by his son’s side throughout this journey, is also eager to return home, after nearly two months in Israel.
“I did not believe that I would ever in my life come to Israel,” he admitted, but said he had no fears or hesitations when the trip was first proposed. “All I wanted was for my son to be healthy,” he said, adding that the Kurds felt a kinship with Jews.
He knows it won’t be easy when they get home -with life is still turbulent in post-Saddam Iraq.
“Everyone wants peace, but things are still a mess back home,” said Ra’uf.
Still, both father and son are homesick and eager to get back – Majed has six siblings waiting for him at home.
They’ve stayed at Schneider this long in order to be monitored to make sure that his body has adjusted to the increased blood flow. The doctors want to be certain he is perfectly healthy before he returns. Once Ra’uf is discharged from Schneider, he will spend time in a rehabilitation facility in Jerusalem before he is sent home.
“I give all the credit to the wonderful medical team here,” said Ra’uf’s father, who has spent every night since Jan. 6 sleeping on a pull-out chair in the hospital next to his son. “They have taken him in, given him everything he needs. We are incredibly grateful to Schneider and to Shevet Ahim.”
Shevet Ahim has made it a mission to bring Arab children with congenital heart defects to Israel for open-heart surgery, and give them a normal life. Generally, the organization identifies the children and arranges transportation and financial support for their stay, with the Israeli hospitals bearing much of the medical costs.
The organization, which was founded in 1994, has brought more than 200 children to Israel for emergency surgeries from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Jordan. Since the war in 2003 made entrance into Iraq possible, they have widened their focus and were able to bring in the two Iraqi children who underwent heart surgery in Israel. And now Majed.