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World For saving the lives of Palestinian children, Israeli non-profit receives UN Population Award

Israeli cardiothoracic surgeon Lior Sasson places his hand on the engorged heart of Abdel-Rahman Ghouti, a 9-month-old Palestinian boy, just before beginning open heart surgery with a team of Israeli doctors and nurses at Wolfson Medical Center, in Holon, Israel, on May 17, 2011.

Heidi Levine / Sipa Press

Save a Child’s Heart, an Israeli non-profit organization dedicated to treating children from developing countries with heart disease, will be awarded the United Nations Population Award this month, the first time an organization from Israel will receive the award.

The organization has treated thousands of children from 57 countries − about half of their patients are from Palestinian territories, where SACH operates through a Christian partner organization, Shevet Achim, which can go to places that don’t allow Israelis.

Once a family agrees to work with SACH, they’re brought into Israel to Edith Wolfson Medical Centre, south of Tel Aviv, where SACH operates.

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Read more: Life-saver sows ‘seeds of a better future between Israelis and Palestinians’

In pictures: Children recipients of heart surgery in Israel

“Many people might think that I’m naive, or my colleagues are naive, but we think ... operating or treating a child with heart disease is like [planting] a seed of peace,” said SACH lead surgeon Lior Sasson.

“The mother of the baby knows what we did for her son, and when she goes back, the whole family and ... many people know it. So I want to think and I want to hope that this might somehow be a factor that will promote peace between us and the Palestinians.”

Dr. Sasson said he was “very honoured” his organization was chosen.

Ionut, 6, from Romania proudly lifts his shirt, revealing the scar on his chest from the heart surgery he received from Israeli doctors with the Save A Heart organization.

Heidi Levine / Sipa Press

“I always think about the publicity as [necessary] to help us recruit more donors, more volunteers, more people to support this great cause,” he said. “Having said that, we are all human, and it feels nice. It’s good to know that this great work is being appreciated.”

Dr. Sasson said the most rewarding part of his work was going back to developing countries to see the children SACH has saved while screening for new patients.

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“To see those children alive, having normal lives, to see their family, to see them smile, to see the light in their eyes, I think this is the most important thing,” he said. “Knowing that you made a difference, this is great.”

Save a Child’s Heart was founded in 1995 in Holon, Israel, with the mission to improve the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children in developing nations, regardless of nationality, religion, color, gender or financial situation.

The organization continues to train medical personnel, run cardiology clinics and conduct screenings in Israel and abroad, at no cost to their patients.

SACH is currently building another cardiac centre with the goal of doubling the amount of children treated. The building will be completed in 2019.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will present the award to SACH physicians Dr. Sasson, Akiva Tamir and Sion Houri, on June 26 at the UN headquarters in New York.

The U.S Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that advances sexual and reproductive health and rights in the United States and globally, is also receiving the United Nations Population Award for 2018 .

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Israeli echocardiogram technician Yafat Broush conducts an examination of an eight-month-old Palestinian baby at Wolfson Hospital, in Holon, Israel, on May 31, 2011.

Heidi Levine / Sipa Press

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