19 Aug 2014

Gaza heart surgery girl Hala is out of danger – but for how long?

I should have come away feeling uplifted by seeing Hala in hospital today, but I didn’t.

If you’ve been watching Channel 4 News you will know she is the girl from Gaza with a congential heart defect.

A charity called Chain of Hope, whose president is the eminent surgeon Magdi Yacoub and which carries out heart surgery on children from poor countries, had alerted me to her while I was in Gaza two weeks ago.

I found her sleeping on the floor of a UN school in Jabalia, sheltering from Israeli airstrikes. Her home had already been destroyed in the bombing. A single oxygen was cylinder keeping her alive.

A British Doctor – David Nott, who was in Gaza with the ICRC – was contacted by the charity and agreed to escort the child out if her exit could be arranged.

During the three-day ceasefire they left, coincidentally on the same day I did. We caught up with them on the border as they headed to Jordan. They were full of hope but still a long way from hospital.

Hala’s flight from Amman to London was a desperate affair. David Nott says for a few minutes her oxygen levels plummeted, she stopped breathing and her heart stopped.

He revived her, and upon arrival in London the doctors at the Royal Brompton said she needed emergency surgery to correct the defect.

Heart surgeon Professor Francois Lacour-Gayet (below, right) modestly told me today he simply “fixed her plumbing”. It was clearly an extraordinary piece of work, for Hala is a girl transformed.


With oxygen now pulsing properly through her body, it is as though the life has rushed back in. She was playing and smiling. That moment was uplifting.

And hearing that Hala is set to leave hospital tomorrow and will be cleared to fly home in just two weeks was all rather marvellous.  Open heart surgery one day, home in three weeks? That’s surely a modern, medical marvel.

But Hala’s mother, while delighted at her daughter’s health, was still looking desperate and anxious.

Their home is still in ruins. Her husband and other children are still sleeping on the floor of that school and that is where Hala will be sleeping too, again, soon.

The war restarted today. Israel announced air strikes, blaming Hamas rocket fire.

It is a grim and senseless reality: a three-year-old saved and returning home, only to risk being the next child killed in the fighting.

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