TZFAT – A small boy at the age of 6 with bright blue eyes smiles, slowly hobbling over to me in an external fixator brace, revealing the boy’s right leg as disfigured and burned from missile fire. Above him are $8000.00 dollar vacuum-sealed valves, ready to seal all doors shut in case of a chemical attack.
We say “hello,” and to our surprise, he replies “shalom.”
“We’re all a little nervous,” interjects Alexander Lerner, PhD, and head department of Orthopedic Surgery. “He still thinks he’s in Syria. We’ve been doing our best to not speak Hebrew around him but he’s picking it up so quickly that his father is unsure if it will be safe to return to Syria once the boy is fully healed.”
Syria is currently undergoing a civil war, and does not take kindly to soldiers that receive Israeli medical treatment.
Lerner explains, “It’s a little startling, really. A majority of our patients are literally carried here on the backs of their friends or family members. They wake up in an Israeli hospital and have no idea how they got here.”
At the Rivka Ziv Medical Center, they treat regardless of age, sex, race, religion or citizenship. Their patients include Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze.
While all hospitals in Israel are undergoing a process to prepare for constant warfare, Tzfat is already well versed in the art of critical care and has been treating Syrian since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War outbreak in January 2014.
“Most hospitals would usually just go straight for the amputee, but we have been doing this for a long time and are therefore much better prepared. I refuse to let my patients lose their limbs. This is how we developed the external fixator,” says Doctor Calin Shapira, who treated the boy just two months ago.
However, this is not without consequence. An estimated 9 million dollars has been used in order to help treat Syrian refugees alone. Every external fixator costs $3000.00, and more often than not, treated Syrians return home with this equipment in order to maintain their full recovery. While the Israeli Defense Forces and the Israeli government cover two thirds of the costs, one third of the money donated comes straight from the hospital itself.
With its 327 hospital beds and 22 beds set aside for intensive care, the Rivka Ziv Medical Center is usually over capacity. A little over 700 Syrians have been receiving medical treatment during the Syrian Civil War at Israeli hospitals. Of them, 233 remain at Rivka Ziv Medical Center. Since March 2011, the UN estimates approximately 150 000 dead and 500 000 injured. With 70% of the medical community fleeing the country out of principle, many health care facilities are left damaged or destroyed, unable to provide the necessary care and treatment for its citizens.
Relatives of the boy praise the hospital for its humanitarian aid, rejoicing in technologies and medical care unavailable to them in Syria. However, upon interviewing the boy’s family, it is revealed that even with the treatment and care provided for Syrian refugees, it has “not changed enough.” A relative of the boy is hopeful to maintain his position as a member of the Free Army.
“I am scared to return to Syria now,” Says the man, “but I will fight for what is right.”
For safety purposes, we cannot disclose the boy’s name, but according to Dr. Shapira, he is expected to make a full recovery within the next month and will be returned to Syria once he is fully healed.