Disruption and Legacy

By Rhoda Smolow

Not long ago, “disruption” was a hot term viewed in highly positive terms. For inventors and tech creators, “disrupting” business models and systems was essential to attracting investor dollars.

COVID-19 has changed all that. Today, the term connotes destruction – of health care and the economy, of lives, families and communities. We are now seeing the incalculable toll disruption can take on entire societies, with the result that life today feels more tenuous than ever before.

It’s not only the pandemic that is revealing how precarious life can be. It’s also the impact of climate change and of deeply embedded racial discrimination. The next generation is rightly focused on these challenges and crying out for change. Our children – and their children – are chanting and shouting, even begging us to do everything in our power to change the legacy we will leave them if things stay as they are – a world torn apart, disrupted, in the true sense of the word, by cataclysmic upheaval. 

If it wasn’t clear before, it is now: life is fragile, societies are fragile. All of us are holding our loved ones closer as we consider the challenges before us. The issue of legacy has never been more concrete and immediate, and it is reframing the way I think about my role at National President of Hadassah. 

One of the most important responsibilities I have is to demonstrate the importance of philanthropic investment, to show that to invest in medical care and research is to invest in life because it increases the chance that those we love and others all over the world will survive illness and disease. It is a powerful way to shape our legacy.

Hadassah’s mission is to help people live the healthiest and longest lives they can, whether through the medical care our hospitals provide today or the care they will offer tomorrow because of Hadassah scientists’ research on infectious diseases like COVID-19 and on oncology, infertility and myriad other areas of medicine. 

A potent example of such research is a discovery, discussed in a seminal paper published in Blood, the journal of the American Society of Hematology, that has the potential to revolutionize the treatment of COVID-19. 

One of the virus’s most deadly complications and one that has puzzled medical researchers is that 30 percent of patients develop blood clots which often create lethal blockages in the brain, heart, lungs and kidneys. Professor Abd Al-Roof Higazi, head of the Department of Clinical Biochemistry and Division of Laboratories at Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO), has identified the mechanism that causes the clots. Working with colleagues around the world, he discovered that a peptide (amino-acid chain) called alpha-defensin speeds up the creation of blood clots and prevents their disintegration. 

Blood tests of COVIDd-19 patients at Hadassah revealed that they have a high concentration of alpha-defensin. The sicker the patient, the higher the concentration. Unfortunately, existing anticoagulant drugs have no impact on alpha-defensin. 

Armed with this knowledge, Prof. Higazi and lab manager Suhair Abdeen began working on developing a way to dissolve the clots. They are testing colchicine, a common oral medication used to treat gout, that has been shown to reduce alpha-defensin and thus, blood clots in mice. The scientists hope to receive approval to begin human trials soon. If the treatment works, the number of COVID-19 patients who need to be put on respirators will be vastly reduced. What is more, the medication could be given to people with mild symptoms to prevent the development of blood clots in the first place. 

Two other examples of Hadassah’s research excellence involve issues related to newborns and labor. 

In a recent Zoom sessionHadassah’s Dr. Simcha Yagel, head of Obstetrics and Gynecology, taught 1,200 Chinese doctors how to identify prenatal congenital heart defects by examining 3D and 4D ultrasound scans. And under Dr. Yagel’s guidance, a study revealed that, contrary to what many women are told, the timing of epidural anesthesia has no impact on how long labor lasts or whether it will result in a cesarean section delivery, proving that women do not need to suffer no matter where they are in the birth process.

In Judaism, there is nothing more sacred than saving a life. To invest in medical care and research is to do just that, to save a life – to save lives – by making desperately needed life-enhancing, and often life-preserving, treatments possible. It is one of the most powerful ways we can make sure that, rather than being one of discord and chaos, our legacy is one of health and hope.

Rhoda Smolow is National President of Hadassah.