Infant's Hope For sight
Blind and deaf Israeli baby may gain eyesight after surgeries in Detroit.
SHELLI LIEBMAN DORFMAN
hen 8-month-old Sarah Shira Abramov
arrived in the United States July 10, she
was due for some good news from her
The Israeli infant was born 14 weeks early, weigh-
ing just one pound, with no apparent hearing or sight.
She had spent the first six months of her life hospital-
Her blindness is caused by retinopathy of prematurity,
a disease of the eye occurring in most babies born
before the 28th week of gestation, weighing less than
When her Israeli ophthalmologist, Dr. Claudette
Keroub, found that laser surgery, the usual method of
restoring some vision, was unsuccessful because of the
late stage of the disease, she turned to her friend and
colleague Dr. Lawrence Lowenthal of Southfield — an
ophthalmologist who is licensed in both .Israel and the
Because of the high success rate of the laser proce-
dure, very few specialists have been trained to perform
the conventional eye surgery that would be Sarah
Shira's only hope of sight — and then only in the eye
with lesser damage. The other eye was thought to be
too damaged for any surgery to be successful.
coax a smile from
With no Israeli doctors trained to perform the
surgery, Dr. Keroub hoped Dr. Lowenthal could
help locate one in the U.S. She knew of Dr.
Lowenthal's and wife Shirley's longtime involvement
in projects that bring eye care to patients in such
countries as Romania, Russia and Ukraine, with
ophthalmologists including Dr. Jay Novetsky of
After some research, Dr. Lowenthal discovered
that one of the few doctors worldwide trained to
perform the procedure is Dr. Michael Trese, chief of
pediatric and adult vitreoretinal surgery at William
Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. Dr. Trese
arranged to examine Sarah Shira the day after she
arrived in the U.S. with her father Abraham
Abramov and Dr. Keroub.
Dr. Trese told them that not only would he per-
form the surgery, but that he also saw promising
results for sight improvement in Sarah Shira's other
eye, even though the damage was of a greater,
extent. Surgery on one eye took place July 12, with
surgery on the second eye taking place July 15. Dr.
Keroub was present during both surgeries.
"This is Dr. Keroub's whole life — tzedakah,"
Shirley Lowenthal says of the Egyptian-born,
French-trained, Israeli physician. "When she found
out the baby could have surgery here, she dropped
everything and came with her."
Even though the extent of sight impairment was
different in each of Sarah Shira's eyes, her chances
of regaining sight are the same for both. "There's
a 50 percent chance of sight in each eye, with 20-
200 vision," Shirley Lowenthal says.
Although Sarah Shira probably will not gain
enough sight to read, the prospect that she will be
able to identify objects will be life-altering, espe-
cially because of her hearing impairment.
Now She Smiles
While Sarah Shira was born in Israel, her parents
made aliyah from Baku, Azerbaijan, nine years
ago. Her sisters, ages 4 and 8, are now healthy,
but both were also born premature like Sarah
Shira. The girls' mother, who is in end-stage renal
failure, undergoes regular dialysis treatments and
was unable to travel to Detroit with her baby and
husband. The family lives in Nazareth Illit — a
city in Detroit's Partnership 2000 region.
When Tanya Mazor-Posner, associate director of
Israel and Overseas Department at the Jewish
Federation of Metropolitan Detroit in Bloomfield
Township, heard the family would be journeying
to Detroit, she offered helped. She arranged for
transportation for Sarah Shira and her father, as
the Lowenthals who are hosting them are Shabbat
observant and do not drive on Shabbat when the
hospital visits were scheduled.
The Lowenthals have seen improvement in
Sarah Shira in the short time since she arrived. At
8 months, the baby weighs only 11 pounds and is
unable to turn over.
"When she came here, she was lying completely
limp," Shirley- Lowenthal says. "And she has scars
on her legs from all the intravenous lines."
Attempts by Lowenthal and Dr. Keroub at
motivating and rousing the baby have been suc-
ces s ful. "I sing to her with my mouth on her
head, behind her ear, and it calms her,"
Lowenthal says. "I'm trying to teach her father to
do it, too," she says of a not-so-simple task
because he speaks no English.
"She will need a lot of teaching and stimulation,"
she says. "I have been doing lots of exercises with
her and she has started to really thrive. She is mov-
ing her arms and legs more, has even begun to laugh
and giggle when I work with her on turning over.
She is smiling for the first time ever."
With the introduction of baby food into her
diet here, her face has filled out.
While it was first thought Sarah Shira had no
hearing, her doctors are now hopeful that hearing
aids can help.