Saturday, September 28, 2002

Heartfelt Child gets life-saving surgery

Jewish doctor sees boy as a patient, not a Palestinian

By Tim Bonfield,
and Tom O'Neill,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Pearl checks on heart patient Kussai Thabet.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
        Palestinian Kussai Thabet marked his first birthday last month. He knows not of the Mideast conflict into which he was born — with a hole in his heart.

        His mother, Entesar, and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center surgeon Jeffrey Pearl know all about that conflict. She and her husband are raising five kids in a Gaza Strip refugee camp. Dr. Pearl is Jewish, a staunch Zionist.

        To both, the only relevant conflict is the fight to get Kussai healed. On Friday, the odyssey of the ailing baby took a leap forward when Dr. Pearl performed a successful five-hour operation that possibly saved the boy's life.

        “Dr. Pearl's one-on-one meetings were very good and comfortable,” Mrs. Thabet, 36, said through an interpreter following the surgery. “I can trust him.”

        Kussai likely will be removed from his ventilator today, and remain at Children's about a week.

        He then will receive outpatient care for about a month before returning home. He and his mother are staying with the Halluga family of Clifton. His trip was arranged through the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund.

        Dr. Pearl earlier this year visited Israeli hospitals and witnessed Jews and Arabs being treated side-by-side.

Mrs. Thabet
Mrs. Thabet
        “There's still a lot of cultural commonalities before Palestinians and Israelis,” he said Friday afternoon. “In America, we don't distinguish, especially with children.

        “We don't ask people where they're from,” he said.

        The surgery, called a tetrology of flow repair, went smoothly. It was the kind of operation Dr. Pearl performs at least 30 times a year.

        “We usually get a good outcome in these cases,” Dr. Pearl said.

        Yet even in this charity case, there was political irony.

        Dr. Pearl said the child relief agency trying to help the boy turned to him only after Saudi Arabia rejected a visa for the boy to travel there for the treatment.

        Dr. Pearl said he knows that doctors in Saudi Arabia could have handled the case because he recently helped train a Pakistani surgeon who works there.

        “To me this points out that the Palestinians have been hurt much more by their Arab brothers than by Israel. For years the Palestinians have been used as pawns by other Arab countries to fight Israel,” Dr. Pearl said.

        Mrs. Thabet, clutching a blue tissue in her left hand, expressed gratitude to the entire staff at Children's and her host family. When asked to describe her son, she paused. “He is my life,” she said through interpreter Duraid Da'as. “Without him, life would be impossible.”


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