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Doctors give sight to blind Gaza baby
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Judy Siegel‑Itzkovich , THE JERUSALEM POST16/12/09

Doctors give sight to blind Gaza baby

A 10‑month‑old Palestinian baby girl who was born blind due to a genetic disease is now able to see thanks to a successful operation at Carmel Medical Center in Haifa. The infant was sent through the Peres Peace Center to the hospital after her parents were unable to find any hospital in the Palestinian Authority able to cope with infantile glaucoma, in which high‑pressure fluid is trapped inside the eyeball.

Prof. Orna Geyer, head of ophthalmology at the Clalit Health Services hospital, agreed to perform the very difficult surgery. She said such cases occur in one in 10,000 births. Because of the baby's age, such operations are very complicated and rare here.

Two operations ‑ one after the other ‑ had to be performed on the girl, who is named Hallah. One was to open the tiny channels in her eyes to allow the fluid to flow out, while the second, which was more complicated, involved the implant of microscopic drainage tubes that permanently allow the fluid to leave the eye.

Hospital doctors are excited because they managed to identify the gene that causes the disease, which occurs as a result of inbreeding by first cousins.

Geyer explained that the gene, called CYP 1B1, can be identified with a new genetic tests performed and offered free only at Carmel. This development will enable families and parents suffering from glaucoma and women during the early stages of pregnancy to go for testing, or to get genetic advice before marriage.

Not long after she was discharged, Hallah was found to see clearly. She has already gained weight and has begun to smile. Her parents, Iman and Raed, thanked the hospital profusely for what they did and promised to be"ambassadors of goodwill" between Israelis and Palestinians.

Meanwhile, a four‑member medical delegation from Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon have returned from two weeks in Burma where they performed eye surgery. Dr. Shmuel Levartovsky, head of the eye department, said he and his colleagues performed 300 operations on children and adults suffering from cataracts, eyelid problems, strabismus and difficulty in shedding tears.

Burma has a population of 55 million and only 129 ophthalmologists (Israel has 7.4 million people and 700 eye doctors). Diplomatic relations between the two countries had been very good and were boosted in 1955 when then‑prime minister U Nu visited, with a subsequent visit by then‑prime minister David Ben‑Gurion.

Today, a military government controls the country, and the head of the opposition, a woman, was put under house arrest in 1990. As a result, the US and Europe initiated economic sanctions that are strongly felt in Burma.

However, the Ashkelon doctors wanted to help the sick and performed the surgery round the clock when the temperature was 32o C and the electricity supply regularly failed. Local doctors observed the operations and learned the latest techniques, said Levartovsky.




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