Rambam ‘a tree of life’

Young patients at Rambam hospital.

LAST month a partially-born baby was saved by world-leading treatment at Israel’s Rambam Medical Centre. Doctors operated on the baby’s obstructed airways while only its head had emerged from the womb. The birth then proceeded and the baby and its mother are doing fine.

This anecdote sums up the hospital’s ethos, according to Dr Michael (Miki) Halberthal, director-general and CEO of Rambam in Haifa’s Bat Galim district, a public hospital serving 2.3 million people in Israel’s north.

After practising in London, Dr Halberthal developed paediatrics at Rambam. Speaking to The AJN from Haifa before his visit to Melbourne this month to launch Australian Friends of Rambam, he said the hospital, which has research and development ties with the University of Haifa and the Technion, incorporates facilities for fields including paediatrics, oncology and bio-medical research. Currently under development are a cardiac hospital and the Helmsley Health Discovery Tower, a 20-storey centre with clinical, educational, and research facilities. 

Although Rambam is a 1000-bed hospital, the fortified underground parking area for 1400 cars can be converted within 72 hours into a mass-casualty facility with a 2000-bed operating room, the world’s largest underground hospital, said Halberthal. The project was driven by the need for a rapid response to mass-casualty events during the 2006 Lebanon War.

Rambam’s Teaching Centre for Trauma is Israel’s largest trauma hospital, receiving a quarter of Israel’s civilian trauma cases – such as car accidents or fires – and 25 per cent of these are severe injuries, compared to 10 per cent in the rest of Israel.

“There has been a huge advancement in the infrastructure of the hospital, but maybe much more important is the high-quality personnel in leading fields,” said Halberthal.

Rambam treated Syrian war refugees, receiving the most challenging cases of all the arrivals across the border, including some 400 with critical injuries, others with cardiac problems or in need of specialised paediatrics.

“Some of them came in unconscious and woke up in Israel which was for them an enemy, but all of them were extremely appreciative,” he recalled. “We also treat lots of patients from the Palestinian Authority – and from other neighbouring countries.

“We are in the business of medicine, we do not check who is who but give treatment,” said Halberthal. “The emblem of Rambam is the tree of life – we say the trunk of the tree is medicine but all the branches of the tree are the bridges, to so many things, like a bridge to peace.”