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Toledo doctors give hearing gift to Palestinian refugee, 3

Dr. Randa Mansour-Shousher examines Ammar El-Ali, 3, as his mother, Suzanne El-Ali of Lebanon, holds him at the UT Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio. (The Blade/Jeremy Wadsworth)

Dr. Randa Mansour-Shousher examines Ammar El-Ali, 3, as his mother, Suzanne El-Ali of Lebanon, holds him at the UT Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio. (The Blade/Jeremy Wadsworth)

BY MARLENE HARRIS-TAYLOR
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The Blade and toledoblade.com on Dec. 17, 2014.

Ammar El-Ali, 3, is a happy, precocious child who lights up the room. He is also getting a chance to hear for the first time in his life thanks to the generosity of several local organizations and physicians.

Ammar was born with severe hearing loss in both ears in a refugee camp in Sabra, Lebanon. His mother Suzanne El-Ali said she and her husband struggled for years to get medical treatment for him.

“It’s not clean there. It’s rough,” Mrs. El-Ali said through a translator.

The family of 10 lives in a one-bedroom apartment, with no running water, in the refugee camp. Mrs. El-Ali, 40, said medical care is expensive and Palestinian refugees get little assistance from the government.

This article is part of The Blade’s ongoing series Million Acts of Kindness, which tells stories of kind and charitable acts in the Toledo area. For more stories, follow the link.

Toledo physician Randa Mansour-Shousher received a phone call from a colleague who was traveling in Lebanon, asking her to help Ammar and his family a little more than a year ago.

Dr. Mansour-Shousher, an audiologist, began rounding up a local medical team to donate services to perform an operation on Ammar.

“It takes a village,” she said.

Dr. Seilesh C. Babu performed the outpatient surgery at ProMedica Flower Hospital on Oct. 17 to embed a cochlear implant, an electronic medical device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear, in one of Ammar’s ears. Dr. Mansour-Shousher fitted Ammar with a hearing aid for his other ear.

Dr. Babu, neurotologist, works primarily in Michigan but also sees patients once a week in Toledo.

“Typically you wait about two to three weeks to start activation [of the implant] and it is usually a year process of reprogramming before you get a big response from the patients. This guy, when we flipped it on, he was hearing immediately,” Dr. Babu said.

Mrs. El-Ali said she was so overwhelmed and excited for her son when another audiologist, Dr. Julie Yeater, activated the implant on Nov. 7 that she melted into tears.

“He is finally adapting to being a 3-year-old,” his mother said.

Dr. Mansour-Shousher said the surgery was an overwhelming success. After examining him on Tuesday, she said Ammar has gone from profound hearing loss to what can now be described as a mild case.

Mrs. El-Ali and Ammar have been living at the Ronald McDonald House during their stay in Toledo. The staff and volunteers have fallen in love with Ammar and he has been learning a few words in English from them and some in Arabic from his mother. Car, bird, and love are his favorite words.

The medical team that treated Ammar in Toledo donated at least $85,000 to $95,000 worth of services to his care, Dr. Babu said.

This includes the anesthesiologist’s fee and the use of ProMedica Flower Hospital for the operation itself, he said.

“Everybody came together and made it work,” Dr. Babu said.

Ammar and his mother will head home some time this week as soon as Palestine’s Children Relief Fund can secure plane tickets, said Ruba Farah, president of the Toledo chapter. The local group also paid for the family’s travel to Toledo and has been serving as their host organization while they are here.

Ms. Farah said the concern now is how the family will be able to continue his care when Ammar returns home. The cochlear implant company donated extra equipment and batteries for them to take back to Lebanon, but that is only one part of the equation.

The family will have to play a large role in continuing his therapy and teaching him to speak, Dr. Mansour-Shousher said.

Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor at mtaylor@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.