Hadassah Surmounts Corona Travel Restrictions to Save Baby’s Life

Wednesday, Mar 25 2020

After hitting many roadblocks, the Hadassah Medical Organization team finally located a bone marrow donor urgently needed to save the life of a six-month-old baby boy in Jerusalem. The baby has a disease called osteopetrosis, where the bones become petrified, causing blindness, deafness, and death.

The donor lives in Germany. What should have been a routine nonstop flight to bring the donor’s bone marrow from Frankfurt to Tel Aviv rapidly turned into a logistical nightmare as, one by one, airlines canceled flights because of the coronavirus pandemic. Not only were there very few flights from Europe to Israel, but they were all full, bringing Israelis home before the borders closed.

Hadassah’s Bone Marrow Transplantation staff tirelessly worked the phones, trying to find alternate routes via Paris and Manchester, as the Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem team prepared for the surgery. These routes were also shut down.

Finally, the team tried London. There were six possible flights, but no seats were available.

Department Chair Prof. Polina Stepensky called El Al Chief Executive Officer Gonen Usishkin and explained that the baby would die if he didn’t receive the donor bone marrow.

El Al replaced a crew member with the bone-marrow courier. The courier had to agree not to travel to the hospital but to enter immediately into quarantine. After a 36-hour journey, the bone marrow finally arrived in Israel.

As the plane taxied to the terminal, a nurse dressed in a protective suit was waiting to take the case containing the bone marrow to Hadassah Ein Kerem. An hour later surgery began.

A team of doctors worked through the night to perform the transplantation. “Like with most bone marrow transplantations, it will take several weeks before we know if it took,” explains Prof. Stepensky. “If it does, the baby will be cured. We're hopeful. I am incredibly fortunate to have such an amazing team in this department. I always knew it, but this brought it into sharp relief. Life is the supreme value to each member of our staff. We continue working during this corona crisis, and we are ready to help anyone who needs us.”

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