October 15, 1997 in Nation/World

The Heart Of The Matter Transplant From Jewish Boy Saves Life Of Arab Girl

Storer H. Rowley Chicago Tribune

Two mothers, an Arab and a Jew, wept in each other’s arms over an 8-year-old Israeli boy killed in a car accident on the eve of Yom Kippur and the 3-year-old Muslim girl whose life was saved by his donated heart.

“Do you know what kind of heart you got?” sobbed Bracha Kavah, whose son Yuval’s transplanted heart now beats inside the little girl. “She got the heart of an angel. I’m so happy he was able to save her.”

At a time when Israelis and Arabs are torn apart by hatred and mistrust, the gift of life from Yuval to Rim, an Israeli Arab citizen, is a tale told movingly in Israeli media and felt around the country. Television news broadcasts showed the two mothers embracing Sunday night, both in tears, one from grief, the other from empathy mixed with joy.

“Heart of Gold,” read the banner headline in the daily newspaper Ma’ariv on Monday. A nearly identical story ran in Yediot Ahranot.

The girl, who had been suffering from a deteriorating heart condition, was listed in good condition at a Tel Aviv hospital.

“They knew their son could help others,” observed Aani Aljaroushi, Rim’s mother, of the sacrifice by Yuval’s parents, even after his loss. “They have all the honor. We take our hats off to them. There are just no other words.

“Thank you. Thank you very much,” the mother from Ramle repeated. “You saved my daughter’s life.”

They replied with tears in their eyes that it was Yuval who deserved her thanks.

Struggling to find meaning in the loss of his son and his gift of life, David Kavah told Israel Army Radio, “She received a wonderful heart, physically and emotionally. Our hearts are certain about this decision, and maybe this will bring the nations just a little bit closer.”

Moved by their gift, Rim’s father, Sizan, said he hoped the Kavahs would visit his daughter often and become a part of her life.

Yuval Kavah was buried Sunday, two weeks shy of his ninth birthday. News programs ran poignant family footage of the handsome youngster smiling and dancing happily at a wedding. He was described as an excellent student, a talented athlete and a beloved child.

The boy’s bicycle, twisted and dented from the car that struck him Thursday night as he walked it across a street in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, was also pictured in the papers, along with David Kavah’s determination to make it a statue at Yuval’s school as a memorial to his son and a warning to other children.

According to news accounts, Yuval had gone out with his brother and their friends the night before the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. They were on their way home and had gotten off their bicycles to walk them across the street.

Standing together on a traffic island, Yuval’s older brother, Alex, apparently started across, and Yuval reportedly ran after him, holding his bike with one hand. His older brother watched in horror as Yuval was hit by a passing car and thrown several dozen yards.

He was rushed to a Tel Aviv area hospital, where doctors were careful not to give his parents any false hopes.

“They told us the truth,” David Kavah told Army Radio. “They told us his heart was functioning, that his cardiovascular system was fine but the problem was with the brain and each hour that went by his chances for survival decreased.”

At 3 a.m. Friday, both parents were called in for consultation in the room, where a representative of the hospital’s transplant center was waiting. The parents understood without having to be told, and then they conferred privately outside the room.

“For 20 years I’ve been holding in my pocket a donor card because I’m a big believer in donating organs in order to save other people’s lives,” Kavah said. “We never thought we would use it for a family member, least of all our youngest son.

“Deep inside we knew the situation was irreversible. We left the room and after a very short consultation, we reached a decision.”

Doctors decided to make Rim the recipient of Yuval’s heart. She had had a serious problem with her heart since birth, a defect that that had made it three times the size of a normal heart and caused it to function abnormally. The condition was life threatening.

If the transplant works and she recovers, doctors said, it would be the first successful pediatric heart transplant in Israel. But observers said it wasn’t the first case of Israeli organs being transplanted into Arab citizens.

Yuval’s parents also donated his liver. One of his kidneys was transplanted into a 14-year-old girl from Taibe, another Arab Israeli, and the second kidney was transplanted into a 19-year-old man from the Israeli port of Ashdod. Yuval’s two corneas were frozen for future recipients.

Bracha Kavah, who said they had inquired about the recipients of their son’s organs and learned they already were helping others, said: “His death was not for nothing. We will overcome our grief, and others will now live because of him.

“I’d be happy to meet the people who receive Yuval’s corneas,” David Kavah noted. “I’d like to see through them the beautiful eyes of my son.”

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