Sheba Medical Center Burn Unit Uses Cutting-Edge Technology to Save Lives

May 21, 2019

4 min read

An 18-month-old Palestinian girl, Shams Ismail, was sleeping soundly until a fire blazed in her house, engulfing the small child in flames. Her parents desperately attempted to break the door down but to no avail. Firefighters arrived on the scene and tore down a wall, rescuing her. But it was almost too late. At the checkpoint, IDF soldiers saw that the girl needed to seek treatment quickly, or she would certainly die.

They rushed her to Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer in critical condition. Over half of her body was badly burned and her respiratory system was shutting down.

The situation was dire.

Normally, in such circumstances, doctors use skin grafts to treat burnt skin. But since the patient was so young and much of her body was scorched, the doctors at Sheba decided to take a risk and apply an innovative method never before done in Israel: they grew new skin in a lab from a sample of Ismail’s in an attempt to repair the damage. In 10 days, they were able to create enough new skin to cover the toddler’s entire stomach.

“Using one’s own skin to grow additional skin in a laboratory and graft it back onto the body is essentially the best treatment available to burn victims today,” said Prof. Josef Haik, Director of the National Burn Center at Sheba Medical Center. “When Ismail came to us, she was in a very severe condition with no certainty of survival. Our highly talented team of medical experts at Sheba Medical Center was able to treat her with this new method, and now we are beginning a long and hopeful rehabilitation regimen on the road to recovery.”

At Sheba’s Burn Unit, doctor’s work on a daily basis to provide that kind of innovative treatment to patients who are badly injured and, in some cases, at the brink of death.

Like many innovations to come out of Sheba, which was recently named one of the top 10 hospitals in the world by Newsweek magazine, miraculous pioneering medical solutions were born out of tragedy.

The Burn Unit is no exception. Founded in 1973 during the Yom Kippur war, the unit was established to treat the staggering amount of wounded IDF soldiers arriving with grave burns all over their body.

Today, Sheba’s Burn Unit is regarded as the most advanced medical center in the country and treats all patients, regardless of age, gender or, as seen in the moving example above, ethnicity.

“The fact that Israel boasts such an advanced treatment center for burns, and that it was born out of its need to care for our IDF soldiers is heartwarming,” said Dr. John A.I. Grossman, Chairman of the official welfare fund of the IDF, LIBI USA, which provides soldiers with support, education and assistance to help ease the burden of their service.

If treating Israeli citizens and security forces weren’t enough, doctors of the burn unit are also dispatched abroad to help in emergency situations. For example, last year, a team of plastic surgeons and burn specialists flew to Guatemala to aid people badly burned by an active volcano that erupted.

“When we talk about being a light unto the nations, Sheba, which began as a military hospital specifically for IDF troops, personifies that motto on a regular basis,” Grossman, remarked.

Indeed, Sheba Medical Center, was founded 71 years ago along with the creation of the state itself. What was first called Army Hospital #5, has morphed into a hub of cutting-edge innovation. Those first treated were IDF soldiers wounded during the War of Independence and, as such, the hospital remains loyal to its roots and dedication to treating those who protect the country.

In fact, the hospital’s director-general, Prof. Yitshak Kreiss, comes from a robust military background. After serving as a combat surgeon, he rose the ranks to become IDF Surgeon General.

As a result, the hospital is an efficient, well-run machine and like the soldiers it treats, is always looking to be a beacon of innovation.

“Our soldiers use the best technology available to protect us, so it should stand to reason that when they are hurt, we use the best technology to treat them,” Grossman said of Sheba.

As for the burn unit, unprecedented skin grafts aren’t the only impressive technology in its nine-bed facility. Its recently established I-PEARLS (Israel Pediatric Aesthetic and Reconstructive Laser Surgery) Center of Excellence uses “Israeli-developed lasers including carbon dioxide (CO2) ablative lasers to safely and effectively reduce the devastating impact of scars in burned children,” Israel21c, explained.

This innovative laser treatment can help reduce the appearance of scars and dramatically improve a child’s quality of life.

“We find modes of treatment we never experienced before. For example, we weren’t touching scars when they were fresh; we’d wait a year or two. Today, with a combination of different lasers we can treat scars almost upon healing, taking out redness and itchiness. In long-term scars we couldn’t help before, we believe now we can change their appearance and elasticity,” Haik explained.

“Many of these children are our next generation of soldiers,” Grossman said. “It’s our obligation and duty to ensure that these children are not only safe, but that with cutting edge medical treatment, they’re also given hope, despite what tragedies befell them.”

Written in cooperation with LIBI USA.

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