When Avner, a 16-year-old Ethiopian immigrant, experienced a relapse of his leukemia, the staff in the Pediatric Hemato-Oncology Department at the Hadassah Medical Center provided him with not only the medical care he needed, but also emotional and creative academic support.

As the crushing fatigue descended on him again, Avner was pretty sure his leukemia had returned, but he didn’t tell his mother how serious it was. “She doesn’t understand these things,” he says. “She grew up in a village in Ethiopia. We didn’t know about leukemia there. Anyway, she finds life difficult enough as it is.”

Avner did, however, go to Hadassah, where his physician confirmed he had a relapse. “Avner was a patient with whom almost every member of our team became involved,” says Dr. Micky Weintraub, head of the Pediatric Hemato-Oncology Department. “He had no support from home, and he was old enough and bright enough to understand how serious things were for him. The psychosocial support we were able to give him played a key role in motivating his recovery.”

With his father still in Ethiopia and no male siblings at home, Avner gravitated toward one of the Department’s male psychologists. On the rare occasions when he did open up, he would confide in this psychologist, who made a special effort to forge a bond with him.

Hospitalized for seven months, Avner tried to keep pace with his schoolwork, but lacked interest in studying. Hadassah’s staff continually searched for creative ways to help him. “What we do with all our students in the hospital is look for something that really interests them and work with that,” explains Rachel, the Department’s art therapist. “It took no time to discover that Avner is sports-crazy, so we’d bring him the sports page each day and discuss what was on it. That built a bridge between us, and we could move on from there.”

One day, Avner mentioned how much he wanted to learn to drive. The staff brought him the driving theory booklet and helped him study so he’d be ready to take that part of the driving test as soon as he left the hospital.

When Avner was released from Hadassah, clear of cancer, he passed the driving theory test and began driving lessons. He also started working steadily toward his high school diploma.

“We’re proud of Avner’s progress–medically, emotionally, and scholastically,” says Dr. Weintraub. “We’re proud of his inner strength and the enormous effort he put forth. We are also proud of how our team worked together to find the right ways to support and guide him.”

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