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The Path from Jerusalem to Montevideo

Diary of A Director General
By Prof. Ehud Kokia
Director General, Hadassah Medical Organization

Dear Family and Friends of Hadassah,

"Treating one person is very rewarding; treating many more is even more rewarding," Prof. Eitan Kerem said about the week he and members of his team spent in Uruguay last month.

Prof. Kerem is an expert on Cystic Fibrosis (CF), a recessive genetic disease that most critically affects the lungs, but can also impact the pancreas, liver and intestines. After a decade of serving as head of the Department of Pediatrics at Mt. Scopus, he now heads our entire Division of Pediatrics. While at Mt. Scopus, he established a Cystic Fibrosis Center and then founded the Eli Douer and Family Center for Pediatric Genetics and Chronic Diseases, the only center of its kind in Israel. He knows firsthand how rewarding it is to treat patients and their families in a multidisciplinary framework.

Yet it's a long way from Jerusalem to Montevideo; from our patients here to the patients there.

When Ethel Fainstein, Hadassah International Director for Latin America, described how the Uruguay connection came about, it reinforced my conviction that Hadassah can serve as a bridge to the world. It all began a few years ago when pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Malena Cohen-Cymberknoh, a talented member of Prof. Kerem's team, returned to her native Argentina to attend a conference of the Association of Parents of Children with Cystic Fibrosis. While in Buenos Aires, she met a gentleman from Uruguay who has two children with Cystic Fibrosis. He invited her to share her knowledge with the people in his country.

He and B'nai B'rith Uruguay, which had made CF its prime project, asked Dr. Cohen-Cymberknoh to come to Montevideo a year later to train professionals using Hadassah's model. During that visit she met with officials from their Ministry of Health and Israeli Ambassador Dory Goren. All of them urged her to expand the project. At her suggestion, B'nai B'rith Uruguay convened a week-long training seminar and conference and invited Prof. Kerem, Dr. Cohen-Cymberknoh, Prof. Michael Wilschanski, Director of our Pediatric Gastroenterology Unit, and Shoshana Armoni, a Hadassah nurse with a specialty in treating CF patients.

Which is how it came to pass that during the last week of November they met with professionals, patients and their families. In the mornings they conducted courses on a wide range of relevant topics at Hospital Pereira Rossell, and in the evenings they continued, meeting with patients, parents and interested lay people at the headquarters of the B´rith B´nai Uruguay.

There are about 120 CF patients in Uruguay," Prof. Kerem noted. "Actually, there are probably more, but they didn't know how to diagnose the disease."

In Montevideo, he and his colleagues proposed the creation of a comprehensive Cystic Fibrosis center in Uruguay based on the Hadassah model. Although CF is a very complicated and multisystem disease with no known cure, a specialized, multidisciplinary staff can ensure a better quality of life for those who suffer with it. Parenthetically, the research Prof. Kerem and his team have conducted has led to new approaches to the disease. Their ongoing research is focused on gaining a better understanding of the disease and testing specific treatments.

Hadassah's CF team has practical, hands-on experience with CF, not just in Jerusalem where all of HMO's facilities are at their disposal, but also in Gaza where they helped establish a CF Center and where the conditions are less than ideal.

In Montevideo, they detailed how they trained a team of Palestinian health professionals, working with them for six months. Relating their experience, they conveyed an unspoken message as well – that for Hadassah, medicine literally has no borders; that for us, helping people help themselves is an essential aspect of our mission.

From the reports I received, the whole city, and most of the country, heard a great deal about Hadassah in just a few short days. Those who did not attend the conference itself, learned about it from the extensive media coverage it received. Prof. Kerem and Dr. Cohen-Cymberknoh were interviewed on radio, television and by leading newspapers; articles about the conference appeared in the secular and Jewish press. Soon, Dr. Cohen-Cymberknoh's article on the development of the program and the plans for the future will be published there.

"We developed warm relationships with the patients and the parents," Prof. Kerem said. "And we changed the way the disease is being treated in Uruguay. For me, personally, I always have a good feeling when I do something that really makes a difference. They want us to come back, and that makes all of us feel very good."

The people of Uruguay have always felt a strong kinship with Israel, Prof. Kerem explained. "They are very proud that their country voted in favor of the November 29, 1947 partition plan," he said. "Uruguay is at the end of the alphabet, they point out, so theirs was the final and decisive vote and they were one of the first countries in the world to immediately recognize Israel in 1948." Our Hadassah team continues to strengthen this kinship.

Helping heal people in all corners of the world, our Hadassah doctors and nurses build bridges wherever they go, with admiration for our Medical Center and respect for our country. As Prof. Kerem says, "knowing that somewhere there are people who are thankful, makes all of us feel very good."

I returned from New York just before sending out this article and wanted to share with you some of the feeling of strength and excitement that I felt while I was there. The quarterly meeting of the HMO Board was the main event, but the occasion generated many other productive meetings as well. With the HMO Board, a very dedicated group of men and women who give of themselves, their time and their energy to help every way possible, we grappled with the challenges we face and discussed creative solutions. Throughout the days we sat together I had a strong sense that with them as our partners, no problem is insurmountable. I felt that same sense of partnership, pride and determination when I met with the Executive Committee of HWZOA and the leadership of Hadassah International. Sitting with four of HWZOA's past national presidents – Nancy Falchuk, Bonnie Lipton, Marlene Post and the venerable Bernice Tannenbaum – I heard about Hadassah from each of their perspectives, about good times and bad, and about how together, we have always overcome the obstacles.

On the eve of Chanukah, I feel as if the glow from candles we will light this coming week are a symbol of the glow that Hadassah radiates from Jerusalem, from the HWZOA National Office in New York, from Montevideo and points near and far. I know that just as we have celebrated Chanukah for thousands of years, as we begin to celebrate the centennial of HWZOA, we will continue to work together triumphing over our immediate troubles as we move proudly into the next century.

Chag Chanukah Sameach.

Yours,

Ehud

Prof. Ehud Kokia
Director General

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