Alyn, the hospital in Jerusalem where disabled children can become superheroes and where the right to life has precedence over any political or religious dispute

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At Alyn Hospital Pediatric &Adolescent Rehabilitation Center in Jerusalem, success is measured in millimeters. Infants, children and teens who are suffering of physical disabilities, congenital or acquired, can be diagnosed and treated here, and they can also undergo rehabilitation by cutting-edge procedures and medical devices, while benefitting of the latest paramedical therapies at the same time. So, I would say that metaphorically speaking, Alyn Hospital is the place where sorrow and grief meet hope, and moreover, where impossible can become possible, although sometimes small steps.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that the hospital is located in western Jerusalem, near the village of Ein Karem, the birthplace of John the Baptist, which shelters a spring said to be the spot where Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist and Mary, Jesus’ mother have met.

The hospital is the only of recovery centre of this type in Israel, but also the only one in the entire Middle East region, and it’s one of the leading specialists in pediatric rehabilitation in the world, as it’s the only hospital in the area that is hosting both medical procedures and all rehabilitation therapies at one place.

Children of more religions, nationalities or languages with serious disabilities from birth or acquired following car accidents, fires or bomb attacks, children who are condemned to be attached to an air ventilator for the rest of their life, are getting here a second chance, and above all, not only they can succeed in having normal kid life, but they also manage to do impossible things for a disabled: some of them manage to use bicycles and tricycles, to play music by handmade instruments, especially designed for them, to feed birds and animals, swim in the pool, climb walls and garden or even use the zip-line that was installed outside the hospital. Lots of superhero stuff.

We try to give the families what they need under the same roof, each children has a specific personal rehabilitation program, we have inpatient departments, an education center where children who undergo treatment can study, we have devices that we loan to children, we provide training for the parents, for specialists who can come from all the world, and we have a fantastic new innovation center, where we design and build technical solutions for the children’s disabilities,” explained doctor Maurit Beeri, the director general of the hospital for the past seven years, who, although she doesn’t known Romanian, she is quite linked to Romania.

Maurit Beeri is the daughter of professor Michael Shafir, born in Romania, renowned European Affairs coordinator at Free Europe Radio station, now emeritus professor at the Institute for Doctoral Studies, School of International Relations and Strategic Studies of the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca. Emigrated to Jerusalem in 1961, Shafir got his PhD in Political Sciences from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1981 and is the author of tens of books and over 350 articles in journals worldwide.

Now, getting back to his daughter, doctor Beeri welcomed us, a groups of journalists from Romania visiting Jerusalem, introducing us in the history of the hospital and its current facilities.

Jewish, Christian and Muslim children treated under the same roof, no TV news to feed tensions

The hospital was set up 85 years ago by an orthopedic surgeon coming from the Unites States, who, while was walking the streets of Jerusalem, was impressed by the high number of children who had crooked feet, and set up this hospital, the first hospital for children in Jerusalem for all nationalities and backgrounds, as until then there were separate clinics, one for Christians, one for the Jews and one for the Muslims.A5A53

You’ll see that the medical team is multicultural now, as well, and patients come from all backgrounds,” director Beeri told us, adding that the Alyn Hospital is taking in children from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, from Gaza, from Jordan and Saudi Arabia, but also from Russia, from Kazakhstan, from China sometimes.

We had once a case, two children from two families of different sides admitted in the hospital, and we had a more tensed situation, but after that we decided to have no more TV news and no TVs at all in the hospital to feed tensions“, doctor Beeri said.

From gardening and feeding animals to using computers and the zip-line

Overall, there are 350 children coming to the hospital every day, some of them are hospitalized (there are 120 beds), and a staff of almost 350 people, so it’s about one employee for one patient. Inpatient and ambulatory therapies are tailored for children who come here with brain injuries (including due to premature births), spinal cord lesions, cerebral palsy, neuromuscular diseases and more, but also for cancer survivors and burn victims.A55A57

The hospital has, among others, a rehabilitation center, a day hospitalization department, a respiratory rehabilitation department, an educational medical day care facility (including pre-school center, a kindergarten and a school) for children who cannot attend regular schools.

The pool is a must here, and it “has the best view in the world”, as well as the sports center, where children can do karate, martial arts or climb walls. Animal assisted therapies are wide spread in the hospital, including activities of interacting with animals, dogs mostly, of feeding birds, etc, but the rehabilitation process also comprises computer technology therapy, virtual reality games or medical clowns. For instance, through the dog therapy children learn how to interact with the dogs, to give them commands so that the animals could help children later in their life.

Patients can also spend their time in the open-air enjoying the garden therapy, exercising their walk on different types of areas, from cobblestone alleys to miniature grass hills or taking the zip line outdoors.

Photo: The Romania Journal
Photo: The Romania Journal
Photo: The Romania Journal
Photo: The Romania Journal

The tragedies with happy end

Tragic stories can be part of this hospital, with immediate evidence right under your eyes, but with hope lying ahead in most of the cases. While visiting the hospital, we ran into a girl with her face and body visibly bearing the remains of severe burns, but who was not just walking by her own, but she was actually accompanying another patient, helping her walk on the corridor. Doctor Beeri shared her story in brief: she was victim of a dreadful car accident when an oil tank hit a school bus carrying 30 children; they all died, except for this girl, who was the only survivor; seeing her wandering freely on the hospital’s halls made me thought she was more than a survivor.

The director also recalled a case of a 5-yo girl from Gaza, victim of a bomb attack, who lost her mother, and she came paralyzed at Alyn, could not breathe and who was eventually saved by an innovation: she was connected to an internal pacemaker introduced in her diaphragm.

Encounter with a Romanian-born volunteer at the innovation center

Innovation is all around the hospital, with modern devices and wheelchairs, like the chair call that acts like a remote control, placed on the joystick of a motorized wheelchair and controlled by an app installed on a smartphone, and which was designed and made by the Alyn specialists together with a group of volunteer engineers, or the wizzy-buggy, a tricycle that looks less medical and more like a toy, the chair of hope, made of a special plastic material, or the 3D printing lab.

Doctor Beeri talking about the chair call.
Doctor Beeri talking about the chair call.

But we also met novetly in old, ordinary things, like at the innovation center’s workshop for musical instruments, where we had the surprise to meet Romanian-born Joshua Mendel, a retired IT engineer who has joined Alyn hospital as a volunteer 4 years ago, working on handmade wooden musical instruments, especially designed for disabled children. Born in Deva, Joshua came to Israel in 1960, and confessed to us that could speak Romanian for the first time in 40 years.

Joshua Mendel presenting his innovative device
Joshua Mendel presenting his innovative device

Any minor progress does count

The hospital doesn’t belong to the government, but i is a stand-alone organization, so the hospital is mostly relying on donations and fundraising campaigns. “It’s very difficult to show that is financially profitable to hold such a place, but generally thinking, the main principle is that if you leave a disabled child without treatment he/she will be always dependent on other people, meaning he will cost the society, his parents will not be able to work and he will not grow up being a contributing member of the society, and, in the end, the cost for saving his life will be a burden for society. It’s harsh to say that but it’s the reality, it all comes down to money,” doctor Beeri argued.

We don’t want society turn its eyes away when seeing a child in a wheelchair. These children deserve to be part of society, maybe they will not going to be football players but, maybe they will become lawyers, members of the Parliament, or maybe just somebody’s father,” she added.

According to her, the hospital’s budget mounts to about EUR 19 million, with the deficit counting for 20 per cent of that, but the toughest challenge is to keep the high quality services as up as possible, so donations are really the ones that keep the hospital alive. Doctor Beeri revealed that a third of the donors are from the USA, a third from Israel and a third from Europe.

Optimism and joy all around, even in the cleaning job. Photo by Romania Journal
Optimism and joy all around, even in the cleaning job. Photo by Romania Journal

The director general explained how all these efforts to help the disabled child fit in the society gain more importance as they are dubbed by physical or for instance, animal assisted therapies. According to her, if a child with severe burns needs treatment and physical exercise in order be able to move his arm joints, and this must be done all the time and could be very painful, so most children will not be able to make it. But if you give the kid a parrot and a bag of seeds to feed it, the child will do that by moving his hand over and over again and will be able to do that more easily, because it will be a meaningful activity for him.

The hospital team is also keen to help children re(integrate) into society, depending on the demands of their societies and to therefore to provide them with the things that are valuable for their society, for instance a Bedouin child living with his family in the middle of the desert won’t need a normal wheelchair that is sinking the sand, but another kind of device.

Doctor Beeri has been in the hospital for 20 years and had patients who came in comas or completely paraplegic and after being treated here they became lawyers or joined the army, they are married and have children. “We also have patients who didn’t make so much progress, they stay at home, but this is acceptable, as long as they can make their own decision and have dignity,” the director said, thus explaining why for the staff and patients here the success is measured in millimeters, meaning that any small progress, any small step taken by a child who cannot walk is highly welcomed.

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