by Reena Palmer, Aliza’s mother

The hospital has been a part of our family for a long time. Years before my husband and I made Aliya in 1998, our families had donated to the Shaare Zedek. The UK calendar had pride of place in our homes and when we made Aliya, we knew that the hospital would be our place of choice to give birth in.

We were married in 1995, but the dream of having children became more and more distant. Miscarriages and fertility treatment became our lot. I miscarried once at 19 weeks, delivering in Shaare Zedek. The pain and depression were extreme. But, when you’re a patient at the “hospital with a heart”, you’re much more. You’re a person with feelings and the wonderful staff, doctors, nurses, and even the cleaning and maintenance staff become your immediate support system.

In the summer of 2004, after nearly 10 years of marriage, I became pregnant again. It seemed that this time all was well and that we would receive that most precious of prizes at the end of nine months.

On the 4th of January 2005, 25 weeks into my pregnancy, I felt contraction pains. Our worst fears came alive and an emergency visit to a gynecologist in our home town of Bet Shemesh, led us to drive Lewis Hamilton-style to Shaare Zedek in Jerusalem. I was admitted to the labour ward where they began to monitor myself and my baby. The conclusion was that the baby was on her way out. I was given various medications to slow the labour process and help the baby’s lungs develop. At 25 weeks, the lungs are the last major organs to develop, and born at such an early gestation age, preemies most significant issues are respiratory.

Nine hours after I was admitted, our daughter Aliza entered this world with the quietest of whimpers. A team of five neonatal specialists was on hand and immediately whipped Aliza away and off to the neonantal intensive care unit, the NICU. In Hebrew, it’s the Pagia. Despite the intense and dedicated efforts of the staff, what we didn’t know, and only found out later, was that they had very little hope of our girl surviving. But at the time, the medical team put in every effort to do what they could so Aliza could survive.

The pagia is a world that most people have and will never experience. It’s like nothing you can imagine. A room with up to 30 incubators, with alarms and monitors pinging constantly. Doctors and nurses running back and forth tending to the tiniest of charges, no heavier than a bag of sugar. And parents, standing, sitting, observing their tiny babies and wondering whether they will survive or not. No one can prepare you for this experience.
My husband, Yoni, was the first to enter this world and see where Aliza was being cared for. I was still in after care on the labour ward. Yoni related that he saw our tiny baby, connected to so many leads and tubes and didn’t know what to think. He remembers gauging that her head was smaller than the size of a tennis ball. Her skin, as preemies is, was dark and translucent and her face bruised from the delivery. And there, standing calmly by Aliza’s incubator was Professor Michael Schimmel, the on-call consultant. As cool as a cucumber he turned to Yoni and with a warm smile said “Say hello to your new daughter”. Yoni stopped, shocked that someone could be so positive. Professor Schimmel encouraged Yoni to bend down and kiss his daughter. The professor’s warm encouragement gave Yoni strength, just what was needed to get through the next 105 days of Aliza’s stay in Shaare Zedek.

Later that day we met with Professor Cathy Hammerman, who would be our consultant for the coming month. She sat us down and in her kind, warm manner explained some things to us and told us what we could expect. She was honest and never promised that everything would be OK. Instead, she told us that we were embarking on an emotional roller-coaster of life in the pagia. How true her words were. You could take two steps forward and then four steps back, or pigeon steps forward bit by bit.

During her time in the pagia, we came very close to losing Aliza nearly four or five times. Preemies are vulnerable to infections, which for them are life-threatening. She was so tiny that her fingers were the size of grains of rice and I could have slid my wedding ring up her arm to her shoulder. I didn’t try it though. Aliza’s lungs were not properly developed so she needed to be on a respirator for two and half months and this brings with it complications, like pierced lungs rom the air pressure. Yes, Aliza went through that too. The staff told us that Aliza experienced practically every crisis a preemie could go through.

What we learnt later was that Shaare Zedek had a superb reputation nationally for its pagia. Thank G-D we had chosen the hospital with a heart. Equipment is equipment in any hospital, like carpenter’s tools. The tools are all the same. It’s the craftsmen who make the difference. So it is with Share Zedek. We could never have survived emotionally without the care for Aliza and the support for us that we got from the staff. It is a place where angels work. So many times that they would comfort and encourage us and help us through the crises. And of course the medical care and dedication they gave to Aliza. On one occasion, a senior Russian doctor, Yevgeny stood by Aliza’s bed in an uninterrupted vigil to save Aliza’s lungs.

In a strange twist of fate, Yoni and I had made a donation years back to the new maternity ward. It was in memory of our two Fathers. We had never been able to find the plaque with their names on. After Aliza entered the pagia, we found the plaque. It was located at the entrance to the pagia itself. For some many reasons, our lives are entwined with Shaare Zedek. We are so grateful for the support you have given to equip the hospital but more importantly ensure that the special spirit Shaare Zedek has within it continues to burn strongly. We thank G-D for Shaare Zedek and its wonderful staff, without them I wouldn’t be a mother.