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The Traveling Doctor: A Pediatric Surgeon with an Open Heart

For Dr. Vadim Kapuler, head of the Pediatric Surgery unit at Assuta Ashdod, it’s critical that parents have access to healthcare for their children. And he takes that responsibility very seriously.

He travels monthly to Eastern Europe, including Georgia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Russia where resources and opportunities are limited, to perform life-saving procedures. He also trains other pediatric surgeons in the region so they can better serve their young patients.

Dr. Kapuler volunteers his time to travel abroad. He doesn’t charge patients overseas.

But according to Dr. Kapuler, he’s not alone. Those who work in pediatric surgery are from a different mold.

“We share experiences with others as par for the course. We can’t pet our own egos on the bill of our patients.”

And it’s certainly not a one-way experience.

“My overseas colleagues and I see complicated issues that have been neglected for years. In India, for example, surgeries don’t occur in stages. Every part of the procedure is built into just one surgery. It’s a different system and a different culture. I learn from the doctors there at least as much as they learn from me.”

Even after working in the field for 30 years, Dr. Kapuler still encounters issues he’s never seen before. Because Israel is a small country, and some issues are rare, traveling improves his breadth of expertise and therefore his ability to treat a wide variety of cases at Assuta Ashdod.

“We also invite experts to come to Assuta Ashdod because there are some issues that only come up once or twice a year. And the children here benefit from their expertise.”

Dr. Kapuler made Aliya from what was then the USSR following university in 1990. He wanted to raise his 4 ½-year-old daughter in a Jewish place. Once in Israel, he completed a medical internship, army service, specialization, and ultimately, a fellowship.

After working as a senior doctor at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, he was recruited to lead Assuta Ashdod’s Pediatric Surgery unit.

“I decided to do something I hadn’t done yet. I entered management.” And he hasn’t looked back.

Maybe that’s because Assuta Ashdod’s most valuable asset is its staff. “They are motivated, fresh, rich in knowledge and hungry for more. Each one is an expert in their field. They have a lot of experience but are not burned out; they cultivate an attractive culture.”

Dr. Kapuler remembers that when he was a kid, he learned from his father that as Jews, they had to work ten times as hard as non-Jews to achieve the same thing. He and his colleagues at Assuta Ashdod know that as a new hospital, they need to work much harder than everyone else to achieve their goals.

And they do.

“My patients in this public hospital feel like they’re in a private hospital. In the pediatric surgery unit, the atmosphere is special. A child is transferred from the unit to the surgical room via a “bimba” [a children’s riding toy] and we all dress up like it’s Purim. We have medical clowns to keep the atmosphere positive because we want our small patients to feel like they’re at home, in kindergarten, or at the mall. We were fortunate to receive a large donation of toys so we can give each child a nice gift before he or she returns home.”

Dr. Kapuler reports that many of the children he treats in surgery (who can talk) ask for another surgery, proving just how positive the atmosphere is.

“That only happens here.”

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