The Tom Hofheimer Medical Mission

by | May 15, 2015 | Other News

Alfred (Buzzy) Schulwolf, Marcia Hofheimer and Betsy and Ed Karotkin in Romania in 2004.

Alfred (Buzzy) Schulwolf, Marcia Hofheimer and Betsy and Ed Karotkin in Romania in 2004.

Under the continued leadership of Marcia Hofheimer and Joyce Strelitz, the Tom Hofheimer Fund, while continuing its Medical Mission abroad and particularly to Israel, cast about for other areas needing its attention.

The new millennium kicked off with a major grant to Jewish Family Service of Tidewater (JFS) to develop a Children’s Grief, Loss and Transition Center that would serve the entire Tidewater community. Working jointly with the EDMARC-Hospice for Children, this structured interfaith program was designed specifically to meet the needs of children, pre-teens and teens that have suffered some type of loss or whose families have undergone a separation or divorce. Congregation Beth Chaverim, the Reform synagogue in Virginia Beach, made its facility available to the community, and based on the success of the program’s first year, the JFS grant was renewed for a second year.

Having expanded its interest from plastic surgery to pediatrics, dental technology, emergency medicine and life support systems, it was only a matter of time before a partnership with a family related philanthropy was realized.

The announcement that the Hofheimer Fund would establish a fellowship in diabetic neuropathy at the Leonard R. Strelitz Diabetes Institute of Eastern Virginia Medical School in further partnership with the Portsmouth Naval Hospital, was greeted with enthusiasm by Dr. Aaron Vinik, research director at the Strelitz Diabetes Institutes. “We are very happy to entertain a fellowship here at the Institutes which will allow an Israeli physician to gain clinical experience and take that knowledge back to Israel,” noted Vinik.

Ultimately, Dr. Sameer Kassem from Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, further enlarged the scope of research working as a fellow studying pancreatic tissue samples brought from Israel. These samples were from the Bedouin population, which suffers from an unusually high rate of hypogloxemia.

The second, or Al-Aqsa Intifada, which began in September of 2000, was the cause of tremendous stress, uncertainty and emotional trauma for both students and teachers in Israel. A significant grant from the Tom Hofheimer Fund was approved for ORT Israel to support the Counseling Center at ORT Horowitz Comprehensive High School in 2001 and was renewed for a second year.

The first Hofheimer Medical Mission to Romania, in cooperation with American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and Physicians for Peace was organized in 2002 by Dr. Edward H. Karotkin who, in conjunction with Drs. Warren Sachs, Philip Goldstein and Richard Wertheimer, gave special attention to education in pediatrics, dental implants, cardiology and urology. Physicians for Peace collected and shipped medical supplies, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment to the Romania Jewish community for its use or to barter in the general community.

In 2004 the second Hofheimer Medical Mission to Romania added a visit to the Medical Center Rosen Nursing Home. On this mission, Dr. Buzzy Schulwolf identified a young woman, Esteria, suffering from diastematomylia, a life-threatening disease in which her skeletal structure was deforming and crushing her organs.

Largely through the tireless efforts of Schulwolf, Esteria traveled to Israel with the help of the Hofheimer Mission, and the complex surgery was performed to help correct her severe skeletal deformities and allow her to pursue her dreams of becoming a fashion designer.

The operation was extraordinarily successful and Esteria was brought back to Israel six months later for necessary follow- up testing to determine if she required further surgery. She was given a clean bill of health.

“The missions to Romania jointly sponsored by the Tom Hofheimer Medical Mission and Physicians For Peace demonstrated how two non-profit organizations could work together and create a program that neither could do alone,” says Karotkin. The success of these missions fulfilled both the medical and nursing educational aims of these two organizations, as well as provided some direct patient care for several complicated pediatric patients.

“I was particularly impressed with how the JDC was able to donate the medical equipment brought with us to the community hospital in Bucharest, in exchange for having the hospital commit to care for elderly patients in the Jewish community who would not have the funds to pay for needed care,” says Karotkin.

The following, from Davida Chazan, well-known Israeli correspondent, blogger and author who covered the event in Israel bears repetition:

“…to all of the donors whose generosity made it possible …you all know that at this time of the year we tell people “G’mar Hatima Tova,” hoping that they will be inscribed for another year in the Book of Life. This, combined with the JDC motto of the proverb “He who saves a single life, it is as though he has saved the entire world” has truly come alive for me. I’m sure you will all agree that what was done here helped insure that this lovely young woman will have no further physical impediments to allow her to be inscribed in the Book of Life for many, many years to come, and together we can count this as one more world that the JDC has successfully saved. Thank you all for allowing me to be even a small part of this.”

In 1984 an Israeli teen, Shuli Shaked, daughter of one of the volunteers we were working with in our newly twinned community, Pardes Katz, came to our attention. Shuli suffered from a severe congenital condition that was not being successfully treated in Israel. Alice Davis, then United Jewish Federation of Tidewater Women’s Division Campaign chair, was determined to help Shuli. At her request, a comprehensive workup in Israel was arranged, which determined she needed the service of three specialists: orthopedic, plastic and vascular surgery. Through the efforts of Davis, and her husband, Dr. Harvey Davis, a team of specialists in Norfolk, working with Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, attended to Shuli’s needs at no cost. She returned to Israel, but a year later, was brought back to Norfolk where she underwent amputation of her left leg.

Shuli spent her recovery at Norfolk’s Ronald McDonald House, until she was outfitted with a prosthesis. A teen-age boy, Craig Einhorn, a member of BBYO at the time, was assigned the task of visiting Shuli to cheer her up. They cheered each other up. Craig made aliyah. They eventually married and are now living in the United States with their two teenage children, one of whom celebrated a Bat Mitzvah last month.

by Hal Sacks