A top Israeli surgeon travelled to London this week in a last-ditch attempt to save the sight of an Iraqi father-of-seven.
Dr Ygal Rotenstreich of Sheba Medical Centre and the 54-year-old Iraqi, who asked to remain anonymous, flew to the UK last weekend for tests after his vision deteriorated over the past three months to the point that he can’t leave his home alone.
He specifically sought out an Israeli doctor after being told at a hospital in Turkey that the country is at the cutting-edge of optical medicine.
Iraqi-born Jewish philanthropist Edwin Shuker was approached to help and after a chance meeting with Dr Rotenstreich on holiday last year. He arranged for the pair to travel to London last weekend.
Speaking exclusively to Jewish News, the patient – who lost the sight in one eye in his youth – said: “I know of an Iranian woman who went to Istanbul, went to the Israeli consulate and asked for assistance. They took her to Israel and restored her sight. She had lost all hope. I can’t forget that story.” He had previously also been successfully treated by a Jewish doctor, who has since retired, at Moorfields in the UK.
The man – an adviser to the Iraqi Government who is also a sayed, the honorific title given to descendants of the Muslim prophet Mohammad – claimed that “hundreds of Arabs and Iranians” are going to Israel under the radar for treatment.
Rotenstreich, who leads research on novel treatments and diagnostic tools for retinal degeneration, sent him to Moorfields for an ultrasound to discover more about the state of the eye, on which he has already undergone three cornea transplant operations. He has pledged to continue to remain in contact with and advise the man with the hope he can eventually undergo sight-saving surgery, in Europe or possibly even in Israel.
The doctor said: “Treating patients is how I try to make the world a better place. It’s the responsibility of a doctor to make the patient better whoever they are, that’s in our DNA. I don’t care about borders.”
The patient was forced to stop working as an adviser to local authorities in Iraq late last year but has decided to hold off retiring in the hope that he can regain his sight.
“Before I was travelling and my borders was the world. Now my world is 200sq metres,” he said during a second meeting with the doctor at Shuker’s house.
“I feel like someone sentenced to death and got a reprieve. The effort the doctor has already made is half the treatment. He said he considers Jews his “cousins” and would have no objection to travelling to Israel for treatment.
And asked about the first thing he would do if he regains sight, he said without hesitation: “I would pray in Jerusalem.”
Shuker, special envoy for the European Jewish Congress, said: “No matter the results of any operation, the contact between the syed and the doctor has already brought light into our world. This encounter proves humanity recognises no boundaries or walls.”