"My son and I are not the same as we were before this happened and I will share this with my family and friends."
On Thursday, June 3, 2010, 15 year old Muhammed Kalalwe was working in his family’s fields. They live in Jenin, a Palestinian city in the northern West Bank, bordering Israel’s Jezreel Valley and the city of Afula. The boy noticed a deadly viper snake and tried killing it with a rock, but the dangerous creature struck out and bit his right palm. Screams and panic ensued and within minutes, the boy’s father, Hafed, grabbed his stricken son and rushed him to the Jenin Hospital. They were ill-prepared to treat the boy, had no anti-serum and decided to send him by ambulance to the Emek Medical Center in Afula. Hafed later related that he was genuinely afraid to be taken to Emek because he was sure that they would be ignored and not even spoken to. His son’s palm and arm were critically swollen and the pain was unbearable.
The humanitarian reality of Emek shocked both the father and son as they were immediately greeted in Arabic, rushed into the ER where Emek’s multi-ethnic staff administered life-saving anti-serum and brought the boy back from the brink of death. Muhammed lay for the next two days in the pediatric intensive care unit and is now resting comfortably in Emek’s pediatric surgical department from where he will be released in the next couple of days.
I asked the father how he felt now about Emek Hospital and the Israelis he has come into contact with. Staring me straight in the eyes he said, "Our people do not know the truth about you and our medicine has a long way to go. My son and I are not the same as we were before this happened and I will share this with my family and friends. May Allah bless all of you." As he spoke, he gesticulated determinedly in a classic Middle Eastern style and when we shook hands as I wished them both well, the grip was firm and real. I have shaken many such hands and gazed into many Palestinian eyes that had seen here a reality that they never expected to see.
While walking back to my office, I passed one of my best friends – the Head of our Emergency Services, Dr. Azziz Daroushe who is a Muslim from the nearby Israeli village of Iksal. I asked him what he thought about this latest case where we were able to save another life from Jenin. With a twinkle in his eye and a knowing grin he answered, "It’s a good thing there are snakes."
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Established in 1924, Emek Medical Center is a community hospital that serves a culturally rich population that is equally divided (50/50) between Jews and Arabs. With a mixed medical staff of Jews and Arabs, its guiding philosophy is Coexistence Through Medicine.
Among the IDF medical staff that was rushed to establish a fully equipped field hospital in Haiti following the earthquake was Emek’s Dr. Asher Pressman, a senior pediatric surgeon. Upon the Israeli medical teams’ return home, Dr. Pressman shared stories of the devastation and human suffering they witnessed as they battled to save hundreds of lives of children and adults.
A defining moment in his experiences there was when a little girl whose chest was caved in arrived near death and the surgeons were not sure if she could be saved. After many hours of delicate and painstaking surgery followed by anxious post-op moments, the little girl finally opened her eyes and smiled at him. ”It was moments like that that rejuvenated me and the others and we knew how important our being there was.”