Six thousand miles away, a cedar tree grows for Riley




Hospital team in Beirut, Lebanon extends its thanks for a partnership with Riley that seeks to create better physicians and better understanding across the miles.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

Riley Hospital for Children is known throughout the state of Indiana and around the country. But thanks to a partnership stretching 6,000 miles from Indianapolis to Beirut, Lebanon, its reputation continues to grow.

A lasting symbol of that growth and friendship is a cedar tree, planted in honor of Riley and celebrating a relationship that continues to bear fruit in the form of shared medical expertise and better-trained physicians.

Cedar trees, used by the Phoenicians in ancient times to build ships and the Egyptians to make paper, are the national symbol of Lebanon, recognized as a symbol of longevity, power and resilience. Time and the exploitation of the tree’s wood have led to a decrease in the number of cedar trees in Lebanon. However, the country is still widely known for the majestic tree; it is the symbol of the Lebanese flag.

Last year, senior leaders at Riley announced an official partnership with the American University of Beirut Medical Center in Lebanon focused on pediatrics, adolescent medicine and pediatric heart surgery. The agreement, years in the making, formalized a longstanding relationship that began with medical mission trips led by Riley heart surgeon Dr. Mark Turrentine.

It allows for cross-training Riley and AUB medical students, residents, fellows, physicians and faculty members, as well as developing joint research projects and sharing quality initiatives.

Dr. Fouad Abou Nader sent a letter of thanks to Riley recently “to express our sincerest gratitude for the solid relationship that Riley Hospital for Children has built with Lebanon over the past year.”

“Thank you for your invaluable investment in our future generation and for your persevering dedication in shaping our young Lebanese physicians,” he wrote. “With the collaboration of the non-governmental organization Jouzour Loubnan (Roots of Lebanon), we would like to celebrate our friendship by adopting a cedar tree in the name of Riley Hospital for Children.”

In response, Matt Cook, president of Riley Children’s Health, expressed his own appreciation for commemorating “our friendship and collaboration with one of the beautiful cedar trees of Lebanon.”

“The residents and fellows that we have recruited from your medical school are talented, well-prepared students and will make talented and gifted doctors to care for children for decades to come. We are fortunate that they choose to continue their training at Riley,” he wrote.

The resilience represented by the cedar tree is critical in the tumultuous world we live in today, both Cook and Riley Chief Medical Officer Elaine Cox agree.

“Since the cedar tree can survive for five millennia, it is a great symbol for our strong and lasting friendship,” Cook said.

The adoption of a tree in Riley’s name symbolizes the solid relationship between two places that are physically far apart but joined by a mission of caring for kids, Dr. Cox said.

“Embedded in the gesture is hope for a long collaboration and friendship — the things that make for peace in the world,” she added.

Like the United States, Lebanon faces civil unrest and economic woes but refuses to buckle. Instead, it is using a piece of its proud heritage to strengthen ties with the Riley community.

“Our friends there thought of us fighting to make the world a healthier place and took a moment to do something to let us know we are treasured by them,” Dr. Cox said. “A selfless act … and a great show of compassion.”