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Virtual Hadassah-Sheikh Khalifa Conference Brings Ray of Light to Kids with Heart Problems – and to New Diplomatic Relationship
UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu head for the normalization ceremony at the White House on September 15. Behind them are (left) Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani and US President Donald Trump. (Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images)

Virtual Hadassah-Sheikh Khalifa Conference Brings Ray of Light to Kids with Heart Problems – and to New Diplomatic Relationship

Doctors in Abu Dhabi, Jerusalem organize online confab within two weeks of normalization between United Arab Emirates, Israel

Healthcare transformations do not occur in a vacuum. Political and geostrategic components go hand in hand with healthcare issues. Please, just don’t tell your children!

Within just two weeks of the historic September 15 establishment of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, doctors at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem and Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi organized an international video conference for the pediatric cardiac critical care community.

Dr. Uri Pollak, director of the corresponding unit at Hadassah, reached out to his counterpart at Sheik Khalifa, Dr. Kesava Ramakrishnan, asking him to co-chair the online gathering. He received an immediate yes.

“Now conditions are right for joint efforts between Hadassah and Sheikh Khalifa Medical City,” Pollak told participants in the virtual confab, which took place on Thursday. “Very soon I look forward to meeting and working with Dr. Ramakrishna in Abu Dhabi.”

Now conditions are right for joint efforts between Hadassah and Sheikh Khalifa Medical City

Dr. Maike Shumacher, director of critical care at Sheikh Khalifa, concurred.

“People from Israel, Abu Dhabi and all over the globe are here to learn from each other,” she told the participants. “We are looking forward to when all of us can meet in person.”

By Wednesday, over 200 physicians, nurses, nurse assistants and researchers had signed up, hailing from the host countries, but also from as far afield as the United States, Britain, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Malaysia. There was also attendance from the Palestinian Authority.

They were some of the world’s top professionals, a virtual – pun intended – who’s who in the pediatric cardiac critical care community.

The response to the invitations was “very, very fast,” Pollak told The Media Line. “We invited the top people in the field and did not even have time to argue with them. They all agreed to participate.”

We invited the top people in the field and did not even have time to argue with them. They all agreed to participate

Indeed, two of the world’s most influential pediatric groups, the European Society of Paediatric and Neonatal Intensive Care and the US-based Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Society, full-heartedly became co-sponsors of the initiative.

Sheik Khalifa’s Ramakrishnan told The Media Line that he “had absolutely no hesitation to meet and participate in this conference” with his Israeli colleagues.

“Before [the establishment of ties], we had no formal meetings,” he stated. “Now, we have a lot of support from our institution.”

Before the establishment of ties, we had no formal meetings. Now, we have a lot of support from our institution

A featured speaker, Dr. Paul Checchia, professor of pediatrics at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, told The Media Line: “I am absolutely thrilled to be a part. This is the first step in real collaboration and it is exciting to be a part of this effort.”

This is the first step in real collaboration and it is exciting to be a part of this effort

Checchia defined the specialty of pediatric cardiac critical care as a “true community” of medical professionals.

“[In one day] I conducted three conference calls with colleagues in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, DC. When it comes to saving a child’s life, we do everything,” he said.

“We talk about patients and do not hold secrets. The joy of working with children breaks down barriers among our group,” he noted.

Ramakrishnan said the gathering was “a reason to celebrate. It brings so much benefit to our center and for the UAE’s children.”

Sheikh Khalifa Medical City hosts the UAE’s first national pediatric critical care program. Annually, 300-350 children obtain life-saving heart treatment at the facility. It is such a success that a second center has been opened in Dubai.

The field of pediatric cardiac critical care has come a long way. Just two or three generations ago, babies and children with heart problems usually died.

“Some operations we conduct are literally hours after birth,” Checchia said. “Forty percent of operations we do are within the first 30 days of life.”

He added that he and his colleagues were now turning their attention forward.

“We are now focusing on the future, the adulthood of our patients,” he said.

“Years ago, we just wanted our patients to survive. Now we want them to have meaningful, productive lives,” he said, his voice wrapped with emotion.

Years ago, we just wanted our patients to survive. Now we want them to have meaningful, productive lives

“I want to know how to ensure that we see our patients in 30 years,” he continued. “The future of these kids is their future, and ours.”

For Pollak, the conference marked a bright future.

“This is an opening for knowledge-sharing between hospitals and countries,” he stated. “I believe in the future. As a pediatric physician, I must.”

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