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Modern day medical miracles




In light of the miracle of Chanukah, we spoke to community members who have experienced medical miracles when all the odds seemed stacked against them.

The last time the SA Jewish Report interviewed the parents of Aaron Lipschitz in February, they were desperately searching for a bone-marrow donor to save their son, who has a rare primary immune-deficiency.

In July, a donor was located in Germany. “It was a ten out of ten match, which is very difficult to find,” says his mother Taryn.

The blood was flown to Cape Town, but the transplant caused Aaron to become critically ill with a rare phenomenon called a cytokine storm.

Aaron was rushed to the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. There, doctors found a dormant infection in his lungs. “They told us that if this infection got into his blood, he wouldn’t survive.” However, the infection did not spread, and he was given injections of an experimental drug that stopped the cytokine storm in its tracks.

Soon after, he was allowed to go home. To his parents, “he really is a walking miracle”.

Na’ama Glassman slipped on the tiles in her Johannesburg home, and by the time she reached hospital, she was unconscious. A CT scan showed she had a skull fracture and a massive bleed on the brain.

Her parents were told their daughter needed brain surgery, so Dr Richard Friedland arranged a helicopter to fly Na’ama to Netcare’s Waterfall Hospital in Midrand.

“By now, we had rolling tehillim (psalms), a hundred people had turned up at the hospital, and people around the world were davening for her,” says her mother.

Na’ama survived the surgery. Yet the road to recovery was just beginning – when she woke up, she couldn’t see. The tehillim continued, and soon after, her sight came back.

She made an astonishing recovery, and hardly needed any rehabilitation therapy. Her doctor, who is Catholic, told Aviva that her daughter’s life was saved “by those books you read”, referring to the tehillim. Other children in the ward with Na’ama also made miraculous progress.

“When we showed the orthotist the CT scan, he couldn’t understand how she had recovered, never mind the fact that she is still alive,” says Aviva. “He said medically, it was a miracle.”

Jamie Katzen of Cape Town, was born at 30 weeks because of a dangerous condition called pre-eclampsia. Left untreated, this can lead to serious – even fatal – complications for mother and baby. The most effective treatment is delivery.

Jamie weighed just 1.07kg at birth, and was in hospital for eight weeks, but every moment of his journey has been miraculous in some way, says his mother Kirsten. “We never had any close calls in hospital. He gained weight. He was never sick. He has reached every milestone, and is on par with children his age. He is tall, healthy, and strong – an absolute miracle!”

They say life begins after 40, and for Sam Nadelman of Cape Town, this rings true. In 2010 at the age of 37, she had a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. She never expected to have a child, but at the age of 40, she found out she was pregnant. She was monitored closely, but all went smoothly. In March 2014, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

Until the age of 30, Talia Farber of Johannesburg did not have any health problems. But one day, she woke up feeling extremely lethargic, had blisters in her mouth, and was short of breath.

After a few weeks, Talia went to hospital. When she woke up the next morning, her diaphragm and neck collapsed. “I stopped breathing completely. If I hadn’t been in hospital, I definitely would have died.”

Talia was in intensive care on a ventilator, and doctors diagnosed her with Myesthenia Gravis, an autoimmune disease.

She was released from hospital, but during a routine check-up, a 10cm tumour was found in her abdomen, very close to her aorta. Despite it being an extremely risky surgery, the tumour was removed and, miraculously, it was benign.

Talia began to get back to normal life, but was again short of breath. Doctors diagnosed her with chronic degeneration of the lungs. The only solution? A lung transplant.

After four months in hospital, during which she stopped breathing twice, Talia got the call that her lungs were on their way.

The surgery went smoothly, but just as she had almost fully recovered, a high temperature revealed an acute rejection of the new lungs.

She deteriorated again, but the rejection was treated.

Finally, Talia was able to return to normal life. “Miracles do happen. I was ventilated and therefore near death about three to four times. I have defied doctors’ assumptions that I would not make it, yet here I am,” she says.

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