In face of violence, Hadassah finds new ways to help

In Jerusalem at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Ein Kerem, surgeons scrambled to stop a young woman's leg from bleeding. They feared they might have to amputate.

Two nails from a terrorist's homemade bomb were embedded in her leg. There was blood "all over the place, and [the surgeons] just couldn't make it stop," said Bonnie Lipton, president of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America.

Apparently the nails had been dipped in rat poison, which interferes with clotting. The chief surgeon decided to try a new but costly drug, developed at the hospital, for coagulation. The bleeding stopped in half an hour.

Now more than ever, the hospital is drawing on new ways to help its rising number of patients, Lipton said during an interview in San Francisco last week. The woman whose leg was saved was just one of many young victims of a Friday night terrorist attack on Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda Street in December.

Lipton — clad patriotically in red, white and blue, with an American flag emblazoned on her shirt pocket — admitted these tragic attacks have been happening so often that "I can't separate them in my mind."

In fact, when the Pittsfield, Mass., resident visited the Hadassah medical complex in December, doctors were treating their 1000th victim of the al-Aksa intifada. And on top of this growing number, "there are victims from a year ago, who remain in the hospital today."

Lipton also witnessed "many miracles" in the hospital's department of facial prosthetics, where faces, jaws, noses and ears were sculpted. "They were not only aesthetic in nature, but very often devices which allow a person to speak," Lipton said with visible emotion.

One such miracle was the prosthesis constructed for an Israeli Arab woman whose cheek and jaw were removed due to a tumor in her face. "Had I not known [what happened], I wouldn't have noticed. Her speech was normal, and her face — it looked like a normal face."

Lipton described an artificial eye "that actually moves," made for a Gilo man hit by a stray bullet while he was watching television at home.

The current intifada is nothing new for Israel, said Lipton, adding that her post as Hadassah president — which she's held for three terms — has not changed much at all.

"Since the state was declared — whether incident, skirmish, intifada or war, we in Hadassah have tailored our humanitarian efforts to meet the needs of the country and the citizens."

One of those efforts has been funding a new, $28 million center for emergency medicine, which recently broke ground at the Ein Kerem site. Expected to open within the next three to four years, the center, to which another $10 million in expenses may be added, would be three times the size of Hadassah's existing emergency facility. It would include an enlarged trauma unit, a separate emergency room for children, an observation room and an imaging unit.

Besides its expanded size, the center also reflects a sophisticated plan to deal with the ever-increasing threat of chemical warfare, Lipton noted. The building will have extra-thick concrete walls and the ability to cut off sectors to seal off patients and staff, and protect them from biohazards.

This is the result "of unfortunately having more experience" in the area of biochemical terrorism, she said. During the Persian Gulf War, for instance, when this experience was not yet as refined, things were handled quite differently at the hospital.

Measures related to protecting people from potential biohazards were done outside, and included a lengthy row of mounted showerheads spouting out cold water. There was "row upon row of stretchers with bars across them so people could be washed upside down and from every angle," Lipton said, demonstrating the setup with two forks.

Doctors and nurses wore specially designed uniforms that looked like space suits, and patients had to line up on different-colored parts of the pavement depending on their needs.

"The Scud [missiles] were falling, and we just didn't know" what would happen, said Lipton. "We had to be prepared for the worst-case scenario."

No matter how bad the scenario gets, Lipton remains certain that Israel will never be destroyed. And if one has to choose between giving a gift to Hadassah or visiting Israel, she said, "I believe unequivocally: Go to Israel.''