Eleven-month-old Michael Meier Sweisa needs help. And Tenafly resident Ron Bergman is trying to see that he gets it. The infant was born with congenital multiple gastrointestinal defects, and only an immediate operation in the United States may save him.
Bergman became aware of the dire situation when he saw an article about the family in an Israeli newspaper several weeks ago.
"I look at the Israeli newspapers every day," said Bergman, who is originally from Israel. "After I read [about Michael], I called Dr. Yerushalmi at Soroka Hospital [in Beersheva], where Michael is being treated, and asked what could be done."
Young Michael Meier Sweisa must come to the U.S. for an operation if he is to survive.
Bergman was told that Michael had just suffered a viral attack on his liver and was not in good condition. He was also told that without a very specific operation involving the simultaneous transplantation of multiple organs, Michael was likely to die within a few weeks.
According to Yerushalmi, who spoke about Michael’s condition to the Israeli press, "Michael [would be] one of the youngest babies in the world to have this kind of operation. He is sweet, alert, smiling, beautiful, and well-developed in all the other body organs, except the organs that he needs."
The operation, said Bergman, needs to be performed at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. The cost of the procedure is estimated at $1million.
Bergman was directed to Shai Gold, vice-president of the International Kids Fund, a nonprofit group in Miami associated with Jackson Memorial. The group’s Website contains profiles of children awaiting operations and accepts donations toward the youngsters’ medical care.
Michael’s profile was added to site, along with these words: "To have a chance of surviving beyond his first birthday, Michael needs a unique, life-saving procedure," which is performed, "with great success, only at Jackson Memorial Hospital."
Soroka Hospital also put Bergman in touch with Michael’s mother.
"She thanked me so many times," said Bergman. "I said she didn’t have to. I’m doing it for the baby."
"It was so sad," he said. "She’s a single mother with two children. The father left her because of the baby. She can’t afford the operation."
Israeli health insurance will pay half the cost, and an additional $100,000 has been offered by a major Israel company that heard of Michael’s plight through the media. While private donors have been coming forward, the family must collect another $330,000 for the operation to go forward, said Bergman.
"I’m trying to find a charity in Miami that might provide funds for sick children whose families don’t have the money," said Bergman. "But even if I do, will they pay for a non-American?"
"It’s ridiculous," Bergman said. "To say you can buy a child’s life for $330,000, I can’t accept it. I don’t understand it. I don’t know how to raise funds," he added. "I need to bring more people into this who know how to do it."
Last Thursday, Bergman sent an e-mail appeal to Chabad members in Tenafly and surrounding areas asking for help. Lubavitch of the Palisades, which made its mailing list available to him, has agreed to accept donations for Michael and to send the family a check for the total amount collected.
"We need big gifts," said Bergman, though he noted he would be grateful for whatever people could donate.
This is not the first time the Tenafly resident has tried to save the life of a child he didn’t know.
"Everyone does something. For me, it’s trying to save a child," he said, noting that he previously raised $40,000 for a 9-year-old girl with a brain tumor a case he also learned of through a newspaper report. "She died on her 10th birthday," he said.
Bergman said he wants to start a foundation with "$’ million to $3 million put aside for children who need operations." He said he is trying to come up with criteria for grants and will meet with hospitals to see if he can negotiate rates.
"Money shouldn’t be standing between life and death," he said.
Donations for Michael’s operation can be sent to Lubavitch on the Palisades, 11 Harold St., Tenafly, NJ 07670, with "Michael" on the memo line.