LOCALS TRAVEL TO ETHIOPIA WITH JEWISH HEALTHCARE INTERNATIONAL

Dr. Michael Lipsitt

Dr. Michael Lipsitt (seated), surrounded by the hospital team, evaluates some of the equipment at a hospital in Gondar. PHOTOS/courtesy Robert Kremer

Temple Beth Tikvah congregants Michael and Jeanne Lipsitt believe in tikkun olam – a Hebrew phrase that means “repairing the world.” While very active locally in their congregation and other Atlanta-area non-profit health-related organizations, they felt the need to act globally as well.

For nearly nine years, Michael (an interventional cardiologist) and Jeanne (a nurse) have been volunteering with Jewish Healthcare International, an international non-profit organization of multi-specialty healthcare professionals who volunteer their time and expertise to improve the quality of and access to healthcare services for communities in need throughout the world.

A few months ago, they paid their own way to become the second medical group to visit Ethiopia on behalf of JHI. Their mission was to evaluate the screening process of Ethiopian Jews needing medical treatment and to expedite getting those most in need to Israel.

Most of these individuals have never seen a doctor and aren’t able to communicate to get the healthcare that they need when they do get to Israel.

“The level of poverty in Ethiopia was so extreme, and people had unmet medical needs,” said Michael Lipsitt. “In some cases, these individuals have never received simple hearing or eyesight tests. So, rather than being illiterate, they simply needed glasses or hearing aids.”

While visiting the hospital in Gondar, the Lipsitts visited the cardiac unit. While there was an EKG machine, there was no paper to perform the test, and few drugs were available.

While screening patients, Jeanne was surprised to learn that many did not know even their age or their birthday. She loved seeing the look of joy on the children’s faces when given a simple Tootsie Pop – the Lipsitts had brought a super-size bag with them that they had purchased from Costco.

“When you see a boy who has a rheumatic heart disease – who in the U.S. would have surgery the next day – not only go untreated, but go undiagnosed, it breaks your heart,” Michael said.

The couple are currently working with both JHI and the State Department to personally underwrite the cost to bring a young man to America to have the heart surgery performed here in Atlanta.

“Children have an amazing amount of resiliency,” said Michael. “They are happy and adapt to their surroundings. However, it brought me sadness to realize that they did not even flinch when we poked their fingers with a needle for the blood test, because their threshold of pain is so high.”

To date, the Lipsitts have visited Minsk, Belarus; Odessa, Ukraine; and Kishenev, Moldova on behalf of JHI. Jeanne is currently the coordinator for missions to Minsk and corresponds regularly with her counterpart there.

After their two-week stay in Ethiopia, the pair are more committed than ever to returning for additional missions across the globe.

“I assure you that we get back more out of these trips than the effort and money that we put into them,” Michael said. “It gives one an appreciation of just how blessed we are to live in America and the satisfaction of helping people in need.”

Editor’s note: Visit jewishhealthcareinternational.org for more info.

By Robert Kremer
For The Atlanta Jewish Times