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Two Riley Docs Save Tiny Hearts -- 6,208 Miles Away

Blog Two Riley Docs Save Tiny Hearts -- 6,208 Miles Away

Dr. Abulebda and Dr. Abu Sultaneh are both cardiovascular critical care doctors at Riley Hospital for Children. They both recently returned from a medical mission, volunteering in Jordan, providing care for Syrian refugee children.


“The minute we sign up to be a pediatrician, it’s a pediatrician with no borders and no limitations.”  --  Dr. Kamal Abulebda

Kamal Abulebda, M.D., remembers growing up in Syria, seeing the struggles and the heartache. He felt it all first hand.

“I know what they are suffering from. I know their struggles. Those kids have nothing, no resources, no money,” he says. “Their parents are barley able to survive, let alone (support) kids with heart disease.”

Samer Abu Sultaneh, M.D., was born in Jordan. He went to medical school there. It is the place he credits with launching his career as a doctor. And he wants to give back. 

“I would not be at the stage I am at without being trained here,” he says.

Dr. Abulebda and Dr. Abu Sultaneh are both cardiovascular critical care doctors at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. They both recently returned from a medical mission, volunteering in Jordan to provide care for Syrian refugee children.  

Each year, thousands of children die from treatable heart diseases. The Riley doctors’ goal was to do their part to combat that. The mission was part of Chain of Hope – an organization of volunteer surgeons and medical teams that provide urgent medical care to children in developing countries.

“Me being one of the Syrian doctors who is able to help the Syrian kids just takes it to a different level,” says Dr. Abulebda. “Doing this as a personal help for these poor kids added so much to my perspective of medicine and the way I look at pediatrics overall.”

One of the most important things he was able to provide, says Dr. Abu Sultaneh, was comfort.

“These families are giving their kid to the surgeons, to the team and then trusting you to take care of their kid without understanding that much,” he says. “When they feel that somebody from their culture, from their language is with their baby, they feel there is somebody they can relate to and talk to. We can give them reassurance.” 

It’s a wonderful feeling to help these families, give them hope, change their entire lives – and expect nothing in return, says Dr. Abulebda.

“My payment is seeing her getting better,” he says of a patient, “seeing her smiling – her mom. We can fix those kids’ hearts surgically, but we are fixing a lot of other hearts, emotionally.”

Dr. Abu Sultaneh agrees.

“What you did actually affects the whole family, saved the whole family, brought joy to the family again and it’s very meaningful for us,” he says. “It’s priceless.”

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.


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