Yulia Karra
July 30, 2023

In November 2022, representatives of two Israeli non-governmental humanitarian organizations — Save a Child’s Heart and IsraAID — traveled to crisis-hit South Sudan for a special mission. The delegation screened dozens of children for congenital heart defects to identify those with the most severe symptoms and bring them to Israel for lifesaving surgeries. 

Save a Child’s Heart was founded at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon in 1995 to treat children from countries where access to pediatric cardiac care is limited or nonexistent. IsraAID is a humanitarian aid organization that has responded to emergencies in 56 countries since its founding in 2001.

The four children picked to undergo procedures in Israel were successfully treated by Save a Child’s Heart at the Sylvan Adams Children’s Hospital and the Ida Cabakoff International Pediatric Cardiac Center. 

Last week, the delegation returned to South Sudan’s capital of Juba to conduct the grueling mission all over again. Cardiologists from Save a Child’s Heart screened 74 children at Al-Sabbah Children’s Hospital over three days.

Among the children identified as needing urgent treatment was four-year-old Gladis. Dr. Akiva Tamir, pediatric cardiologist and one of the founders of Save a Child’s Heart, examined the girl and discovered that aside from the heart condition she was born with, recently an obstruction developed in her heart that is blocking blood flow to the lungs.

Israeli NGOs screen South Sudan kids for lifesaving surgery
Four-year-old Gladis. Photo courtesy of Save a Child’s Heart

“In this condition, every little stimulation can be the last one. She is a very sweet and happy little girl, and when I examined her, I realized immediately that she needs an urgent operation to save her life,” said Tamir.

“The delegation was supposed to fly back to Israel the next day and we decided to try and bring her with us,” says Save a Child’s Heart Deputy Executive Director Tamar Shapira. 

That was quite the task, considering that the process of transporting the children for medical treatment normally requires a few weeks of work, which includes issuing passports, visa entries, flight tickets, insurance and more. 

One of the doctors at the Sudanese hospital contacted a friend at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, who vowed to get passports for Gladis and her mother by the next morning. Israeli Ambassador to South Sudan Gershon Keidar helped the pair obtain entry visas, while Ethiopian Airlines arranged flight tickets.

“We flew from Juba to Addis Ababa [in Ethiopia], had a four-hour layover, and then took another flight to Tel Aviv. For a girl in her condition it was very risky. But the alternative, to stay in South Sudan and wait for a few weeks to be sent to Israel with the first group of children, was more dangerous,” says Shapira.

Gladis is currently in stable condition at the Sylvan Adams Children’s Hospital in Israel, and is scheduled to undergo the lifesaving operation in the coming days. 

“I am hopeful and happy,” Gladis’ mother tells ISRAEL21c. “I found out that Gladis was sick two years ago. Since then I have been living in fear, not knowing how I can save my little girl. I am grateful for Save a Child’s Heart and I pray that Gladis will be saved and grow up healthy and happy.”

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