Durban paediatrician saved by Israeli medical team

  • SADoctor_Dr Reddy
When Durban paediatrician Dr Thesi Reddy was diagnosed with a brain tumour earlier this year, he was given nine months to live. Unable to travel overseas for the necessary surgery because of COVID-19, his chances of survival were extremely remote.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Sep 10, 2020

Against all odds, the South African Friends of Sheba Medical Center achieved the impossible by getting him to Israel for the lifesaving procedure at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer in August.

Reddy is now recovering and making it his mission to strengthen the relationship between South Africa and the Jewish state.

“What Sheba did for me is beyond words,” Reddy told the SA Jewish Report this week. “I had no idea that Israel was operating on such an advanced medical level. I did not go to Israel anticipating surgery at all, and yet they pulled it off. I’m still in awe.”

Reddy, a respected paediatrician at Kingsway Hospital in Durban with over 30 years of medical experience, was diagnosed three years ago with a malignant tumour in his stomach. Although he underwent surgery successfully in India, a glioblastoma was discovered in his brain this year. This required a delicate operation which could not be performed in South Africa.

“They did what they could for me here in Durban, but I soon realised that they wouldn’t be able to buy me much more time,” Reddy says. “I reached out to the doctors who had helped me in India, but because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, they weren’t able to help me this time.”

“However, they suggested that I try my luck in Israel, saying that the Israelis were very good with what I’d need.”

After conducting some research, Reddy learned of a unique medical helmet designed and manufactured in Israel which could potentially help him. Determined to source the technology, Reddy turned to Dr Maurice Goodman, a close friend and board member of the South African Friends of Sheba, who suggested he speak to the organisation’s executive director, Naomi Hadar.

“When Maurice told me about Reddy, I knew we had to make something happen,” Hadar told the SA Jewish Report this week. “I contacted Sheba Medical Center and spoke with Dr Zion Zivly, one of the medical centre’s most prominent neurosurgeons, to see what we could do for him despite all the COVID-19 limitations.”

Hadar took this on as a challenge. “I love missions which others say are impossible – they drive me to achieve them and make them possible,” she says. “This was an opportunity to perform tikkun olam, help the world, and promote Israel. I had to make it happen.”

Working closely with Sheba and high-ranking South African government officials, Hadar set out to arrange a flight which would take her and Reddy to Israel via Turkey. After much negotiation, she, Reddy and his son, Naim, departed from an eerily empty OR Tambo International Airport on 15 July 2020.

After a 30-hour layover in Turkey, the three landed in Israel shortly after midnight the next day, and arrived at the hospital at 01:00. Reddy went into isolation for two weeks, during which he underwent numerous medical tests which made it grimly clear that the tumour had grown.

“I set up a meeting to get the helmet, thinking I’d return to South Africa and then arrange surgery in another two months or so,” says Reddy. “I met Dr Zivly three times during the isolation, and he urged me to consider having the surgery immediately.

“I hadn’t even thought of it really at that point. What if I ended up in a poor condition and couldn’t get back to South Africa? However, Zivly and I sat together and spoke, one specialist to another,” Reddy says. “He gave me the impression that he could perform the surgery and do so safely, so I said we should go ahead.”

Before undergoing the procedure, Reddy spent time touring Israel, visiting Jerusalem and the Dead Sea for the first time. On 7 August, he was readied for surgery, and went into theatre for the complicated tumour removal.

Hadar explains: “It was a five-hour procedure. I sat with his son and we waited together. Zivly had said that he estimated he could remove approximately 85% of the tumour, so we were hopeful but still nervous.”

When Reddy was wheeled out of surgery, it became clear that the procedure had not only been a smooth one, but had successfully resulted in the removal of the entire tumour, a fact confirmed by a subsequent MRI scan. Reddy recovered rapidly, and after a short stay in the hospital, was soon back on his feet and touring more of Israel.

“I was very surprised,” admits Reddy. “I’d never known such rapid discharge from hospital. The level of expertise, medical technology, and standard of care was incredible. This was a hospital of the highest order whose standards I cannot fault. Glioblastoma doesn’t have a high survival rate, and, because of Sheba, I have probably got further than most people with the condition. Those Israelis know what they’re doing.”

Beyond touring, Reddy underwent some post-surgery treatment and also collected the medical helmet before returning home a changed man.

Says Hadar: “I flew to Israel with a sick man and returned with a different person altogether. He couldn’t stop praising the medical team. His wife phoned and couldn’t express enough thanks, and we’ve had plenty of messages from people who know him thanking Sheba for helping him.

“For us Jews, it’s about applying heart and soul, not just ability and resources,” says Hadar. “Dr Reddy is not Jewish, nor is he connected to Israel at all. We helped because it’s in our DNA. He who saves a person, saves the world, whether that person is Jewish or not. I hope that he continues to recover, and pray he has a longer and better life.”

Reddy is looking for ways to connect South Africa with Israeli medical innovation, determined to help other South Africans benefit the way he has.

“We need to bring cutting-edge Israeli tech to South Africa,” he says. “I marvelled at the way they are handling COVID-19, and they have strategies we could benefit from here at home.

“We’ve lost our medical innovative edge in South Africa, and I feel that Israel can help us. The team at Sheba prove that medicine can be practised differently and [they] are doing things few others can do. Why should we not engage with them?”

3 Comments

  1. 3 Casper van Cleeveld 13 Sep
    Great story. Good luck with everything!
  2. 2 Lynette (Lyn) Levinrad 14 Sep
    Very interesting, your Jewish Report
  3. 1 Whit Chenault 21 Sep
    The blessing continues.....Innovation in Israel is off the charts!  Can't help it when you are a covenant people.

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