A Syrian newborn with a rare heart defect was rushed to Israel’s Sheba Medical Center for lifesaving surgery, arriving via an air ambulance from Cyprus on June 10.

The Israeli Embassy in Cyprus and the Cyprus Ministry of Health arranged the emergency transport for the 10-day-old infant and his father, a Syrian refugee.

The Israeli government waived the requirement for quarantine normally imposed on anyone landing in Israel during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Alain Serraf, head of the International Congenital Heart Center at Sheba’s Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital, performed the first of an expected three surgeries on the 10-day-old baby on June 14.

A 10-day-old Syrian baby en route from Cyprus to Israel for emergency surgery, June 11, 2020. Photo courtesy of Israel Ambassador to Cyprus Sammy Revel

Serraf said he was “guardedly optimistic” about the success of the operation. The infant suffers from hypoplastic left heart syndrome, in which the left side of the heart fails to develop properly.

Serraf performed a “Norwood procedure,” placing a shunt to connect the pulmonary artery, which carries oxygen-rich blood, to the aorta, from which blood is pumped throughout the body.

“The first procedure is always the most difficult. We have experience in doing the Norwood procedure on a number of children who come from throughout the region,” Serraf said.

If the baby recovers well from the four-hour surgery, he will need to return for further surgery at six months and two years of age. “If everything goes according to plan, the child can have a normal lifestyle,” the surgeon added.

This was not the first time Israeli Ambassador Sammy Revel arranged for a gravely ill Syrian refugee newborn to be airlifted for cardiac surgery at Safra Children’s Hospital. ISRAEL21c reported on a similar case in December 2017. The infant was released in good health, as we shared in January.

Sheba Medical Center maintains a special agreement with the Republic of Cyprus. The center is active in humanitarian work, providing support and supplies in distant areas of need including Kosovo, Armenia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Chernobyl and Rwanda. Patients come to Sheba from across the Middle East, including from Arab countries that have no diplomatic relations with Israel, and from the Palestinian Authority administered territories.