Published November 26, 2003
JERUSALEM – In an act of compassion that sometimes seems unimaginable in that war-torn part of the world, Israeli doctors worked Wednesday to save the life of an Iraqi baby who was born with a congenital heart defect.
And Israel and Iraq haven't exactly been friendly neighbors over the years.
During the first Gulf War in 1991, former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein fired 39 scud missiles (search) toward Israelis in Tel Aviv and Haifa. And Israel was on high alert for more attacks earlier this year, which makes the story of Bayan Jassem all the more remarkable.
The tiny Iraqi baby, wrapped in a red and yellow blanket, arrived in Israel on Tuesday from Iraq, along with her mother and father, for an operation to correct the heart defect.
The week-old infant was born in a hospital near Kirkuk, Iraq, with the arteries to her heart reversed.
An American doctor working with U.S. forces in Iraq discovered Jassem's problem and went looking for help. He was put in touch with an Israeli hospital that was familiar with treating this type of heart defect. A doctor in Israel instructed an Iraqi physician on how to stabilize Jassem before she left the country.
No child in Iraq has ever had this kind of surgery, because no Iraqi doctors had ever been trained in this procedure.
The baby and her parents flew to Amman, Jordan, on Tuesday then drove to Jerusalem, arriving at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon (search), a southern suburb of Tel Aviv, Israel's largest city.
Doctors said the infant is very sick, but they can save her. They know what's wrong and were conducting the operation on Wednesday. Israeli doctors expected Jassem's complicated operation to take as long as 11 hours, said Simon Fisher, executive director of Save a Child's Heart, an Israeli-based charity that is registered in the United States and has given medical treatment to nearly 1,000 children since its establishment in 1995.
The operation must be performed within the first two weeks of a baby's birth, doctors said.
Such open-heart surgery to correct arterial flow around the heart has never been performed in Iraq, said Jonathan Miles, an American doctor who works with Save a Child's Heart and traveled with the Jassem family from Iraq.
If all goes well, Jassem will recover in Jerusalem for anywhere from two weeks to two months. Then, she and her parents will head back home to Iraq.
The cost of the surgery and the family's expenses were being covered by Save a Child's Heart, which treats children from poor families who do not have the means for medical treatment to correct their kids' heart defects.
It has paid for operations for more than 300 Palestinian and several Jordanian children during the past three years and has flown surgeons to Africa and Asia to treat children.
Children who have been treated by the organization come from all corners of the world, including China, Congo, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Jordan, Kinchasa, Moldova, Nigeria, the Palestinian Authority, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam and the Island of Zanzibar.
Fox News' Rick Leventhal and The Associated Press contributed to this report.