March 26, 2006, Updated September 14, 2012

‘I think what is most unique about our center is our openness,’ says Sheba hospital director Dr. Zeev Rotstein. “People from around the world come to us.”Imagine a rock concert featuring the hottest stars in heart surgery.

Recently, the best of Israel’s cardiologists – no slouches themselves – vied for space in a packed auditorium to catch glimpses of the Mick Jaggers and Michael Jordans of international heart surgeons. The event took place at the Sheba Medical Center (Tel Hashomer Hospital), a clinical hospital and international hub for the world’s best doctors and surgeons to strut their stuff – because as heart surgeons know, no man is an island.

To keep abreast with the lightning-speed pace of advances in cardiology and to save lives better, surgeons have learned how to educate one another. One of the best places for this to happen is at Sheba where a special auditorium has been built with state-of-the-art equipment for sharing tricks of the trade. In the Sourasky Auditorium, surgeries are broadcast live from the operating room on large screens for doctors to see; attractions can be a brain operation, a liver transplantation, or the reparation of a premature baby’s heart which is the size of a walnut, just to name a few.

During a recent conference, there were two successful open-heart surgeries performed by Professor Tirone David, the president of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery who works at the Toronto General Hospital. On the large screen David could be seen pumping a heart back to life with his hands, while Boston-based surgeon Professor Robert Levine, lectured on the latest techniques in valve replacement surgery.

Two other surgeons who were present – Professor Ottavio Alfieri of Milan, and Dr. Alain Berrebi of Paris – who completed the quartet of experts that came to share innovations at what was hailed as the first Biannual Symposium on Valve Preserving Surgery. The event was chaired by one of Israel’s own rising stars, Professor Ehud Raanani, who at 44 already heads the Heart Center at Sheba.

Commitment to education is one of the main precepts of the Sheba, which is affiliated with all the major learning institutions in the country, and also with US superpowers such as the Mayo Clinic.

“The chief is a good friend of mine,” David quipped to ISRAEL21c while catching a break in Raanani’s office after a long day of surgery. “Raanani trained with me in Toronto and I am impressed by his department at the Sheba Medical Center; his cardiac surgery is first rate. Raanani is striving to make cardiac surgery even better in Israel and he has the tools to make it happen.”

“They don’t cut the umbilical cord,” says David about the ongoing relationships he has fostered with his students throughout the years.

Levine, who flew in from the US, works at Mass General Hospital in Boston, at Harvard Medical School and is a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “He is not only a world expert in echocardiography,” says Raanani, pleased to have so many prominent guests at his center, “but is a distinguished cardiologist and researcher to whom the most eminent cardiac surgeons actually listen.”

“The symposium, I believe, will have continuing benefits in strengthening valve repair in Israel and solidifying a nucleus of interested and capable clinician-scientists,” says Levine. “The organizers, Ehud Schwammenthal and Ehud Raanani, are leaders and innovators in the field. My closest work has been with the former, who has developed some of the most original ideas about mechanisms and quantification of valve disease, at rest and with exercise. It has been a pleasure to get to meet Dr. Raanani, who is clearly introducing innovative surgical approaches to improve patient benefits in Israel.”

Support staff who work at Sheba say that important specialists at the highest levels in their fields, like Levine and David, come to the Sheba on a regular basis. The master teachers also attract a fairly regular crowd of specialists from Europe who come to see some of the latest surgical techniques being performed in Israel.

Hospital Director General Dr. Zeev Rotstein, a cardiologist himself, does hesitate to toot his own horn. Rotstein says that Sheba is a very unique hospital. “We have 1800 beds, and draw on the skills of about 850 physicians. The hospital puts a strong emphasis on clinical work and research and attempts to recruit the best specialists in their fields.”

“I think what is most unique about our center is our openness. People from around the world come to us. Today we were operating on Peruvians from the Andes; and of course it is known that we treat a lot of Palestinian patients too. This place is the mecca of clinical research in Israel,” adds Rotstein.

In the middle of the conversation, he spots a familiar, tired face.

“Nobody is sleeping here,” he says while turning to Dr. Leonid Strnik who was putting lunch on his plate, “I know you transplanted a heart last night.”

David Weinberg, a spokesman for the hospital said that Sheba is doing things in cardiac surgery that doctors didn’t dare dream about 15 years ago. He recalls seeing a baby at the hospital, born a few months premature, with heart defects. “They are fixing babies here. The heart of this child was the size of a walnut. You wouldn’t believe what doctors can do now in cardiac surgery,” touts Weinberg.

As the heart surgeons took in what they could from the day before racing back to their busy lives, one person made an observation while looking around the room, “If you are going to have a heart attack, the best thing would be for it to happen today in this room full of specialists.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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