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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

Birthplace of the UAE’s new generations

The Oasis Hospital at Al Ain has produced generations of families since it was founded in 1960. On Saturday, the last baby was born in the hospital before its relocation to an adjacent new building, a gift from the Al Nahyan family.
Othman Sultan Salem cradles his son Falah, who was also born on Saturday before the medical facility’s relocation to an adjacent new four-storey building. Sarah Dea / The National
Othman Sultan Salem cradles his son Falah, who was also born on Saturday before the medical facility’s relocation to an adjacent new four-storey building. Sarah Dea / The National

The Oasis Hospital at Al Ain has produced generations of families since it was founded in 1960. On Saturday, the last baby was born in the hospital before its relocation to an adjacent new building, a gift from the Al Nahyan family.

At 2.40pm on Saturday, Latifa came into the world.

Bundled up in pink, she is the last baby born in the old Oasis Hospital in Al Ain.

“We were all born here, my brothers and my sisters, and my husband and his family, and many more family members,” says Latifa’s mother Sheikha Al Nuaimi, who three hours after the birth was up and about, full of energy.

Latifa is Ms Al Nuaimi’s sixth child – her two other girls and three boys were also born at Oasis Hospital.

“This hospital is like our second home. We feel comfortable here,” says the Emirati.

Founded in 1960, Oasis was the first hospital in Abu Dhabi. What started off as a few rooms inside arish homes – traditional Bedouin tent-like homes made of palm fronds – then expanded to a one-storey building.

Now the hospital has moved again, to a modern four-storey facility.

The new building is situated right next to the old and has white zigzag lines inspired by arish style, designed by the Australian architecture firm Peddle Thorp Architects.

The new Oasis Hospital is a gift from the Al Nahyan family. The old building, however, will remain open and has been refurbished into 17 large VIP rooms.

The new hospital has increased its bed space from 40 to 100 patients and has a birthing centre and 20 neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) beds for sick or premature babies.

The relocation of the hospital at the weekend was timed to coincide with Eid Al Jalis, the time when the UAE’s Founding Father Sheikh Zayed became the ruler of Abu Dhabi, on August 6, 1966.

On entering the new hospital, visitors are greeted by a six-foot statue of a camel and colourful chairs in the waiting room.

In addition to maternity-related services, the new Oasis Hospital also has other departments, such as ear, nose and throat (ENT), family medicine, radiology, an eye clinic, physiotherapy, and a paediatrics section, with a Rainbow Kids Clinic.

With child-sized chairs and tables next to adult ones, the children’s clinic walls have been painted with cartoons, with characters from Disney’s Jungle Book and The Little Mermaid as well as a mural of camels travelling across the UAE and landmarks from different emirates.

“Our kids love to come here. We love the attention and the care we receive here, and we are sure the spirit of what we love about Oasis will continue inside the newer building,” says Sultan Al Nuaimi, Latifa’s father.

Both he and his wife were delivered by the hospital’s most famous employee, the late Gertrude Dyck, a nurse from Canada who became known as “Dr Latifa” – Latifa is an Arabic name associated with being merciful and gentle.

Ms Dyck helped to deliver up to 90,000 babies during her 40 years in Al Ain. She died in 2009.

“She was a kind, gentle lady with a reassuring sweet smile,” says Ms Al Nuaimi. “I remember seeing her whenever I came with my mother when she was due to deliver.”

Ms Dyck was posthumously honoured in 2010 with the Medal of Independence of the Third Order, bestowed by Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE.

Proud of its motto, “Birthplace of leaders for the nation”, the hospital’s first newborns were several members of the Al Nahyan family, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

“Reputation is everything and the Kennedys had a good reputation among the locals here as doctors who really cared about us,” says Mr Al Nuaimi, referring to the Christian missionary founders of Oasis Hospital, Pat and Marian Kennedy.

They arrived in November 1960, at the invitation Sheikh Zayed and his brother Sheikh Shakhbut, who was then ruler of Abu Dhabi, because the infant and maternal mortality rate in Al Ain was unusually high.

The history of the hospital through photos and articles can be visited inside the public majlis at the old hospital.

“We try to keep it as family-friendly as possible, as that is what people love about the Oasis,” says hospital president Trey Hulsey.

On a tour of the old hospital for The National, two Emirati boys run barefoot across the corridor.

“They love this access,” says Mr Hulsey, pointing to the doors which provide direct access from the parking lot to the VIP rooms.

“It is private as each VIP room has its own access from the outside. Privacy is highly valued among Emirati families.”

In the new hospital, he says there will also be a women’s clinic.

“We respect the local culture and we know they appreciate having a place just for themselves,” says Mr Hulsey.

Greeting the families staying at the hospital in Arabic, he points out some of the unique aspects of Oasis, such as Bibles in Arabic, keeping in tradition with the Christian foundation of the hospital.

“At the new hospital we can help more patients and provide more services, like the NICU, which was something we didn’t have before and which will really help us care for the 250 to 300 premature babies that are, on average, born every year,” says Mr Hulsey.

Premature babies are those born before 37 weeks of gestation.

Head of the NICU is a specialist from Saudi Arabia, Dr Zakariya Al Salam, who will be taking care of “very” tiny babies, as small as 500 grams.

“It is a difficult and delicate job to take care of them to make sure they develop healthy and strong,” says Dr Al Salam, who has 20 years of experience.

His journey into the field was inspired by the birth of his sister, Zainab, whose fragility he felt as he held her.

“I realised how much I loved taking care of babies, and how there was a great need for this specialisation,” he says.

“We take it for granted that we have all the latest technologies and medicine.

“We have to treat each birth as carefully as possible and monitor for everything.”

Being a father of three, he understands the anxiety and emotions of parents of premature babies, or those needing special care.

“We help and advise them, and are with them throughout the entire journey of recovery and care,” says Dr Al Salam.

At the heart of Oasis Hospital is a baby-friendly environment, where the mothers and newborns stay together in the same room.

“We want to help develop that precious and very special bond between the mother and her baby,” says Dr Christel Brabon, head of obstetrics and gynaecology at the women’s clinic.

“We focus on promoting breastfeeding, as it has been shown to be the most beneficial to the mother and the baby, and we show the mother ways to hold the baby that will be the least painful for her,” says Dr Brabon.

Also part of the procedure at Oasis is the “golden hour” immediately after delivery, when the baby is placed on the mother’s chest so her heartbeat is the first thing the baby hears after he or she comes into the world.

The baby is washed in the same room as the mother and they are kept together for bonding.

“We also encourage fathers to be more involved in those precious moments as the baby arrives,” she says.

One such father is Othman Sultan Salem, an Emirati who remained by the side of his wife until his son Falah was born on Saturday at 7am.

“I can tell he will have my smile,” says Mr Salem, who 38 years ago was also born at Oasis.

“We don’t come to a hospital when we come to Oasis, we come to our extended home,” says the father, whose two other sons were also born here.

“It is a family tradition to come here,” he says.

rghazal@thenational.ae