x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Childhood spent inside Oasis Hospital

Two sisters recall work of US doctor parents who arrived in 1960 to set up Oasis Hospital, where 90,000 children have since been born.

Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed and David Printy, the president of Oasis Hospital, yesterday look at redevelopment designs that will see the number of beds quadruple at the facility.
Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed and David Printy, the president of Oasis Hospital, yesterday look at redevelopment designs that will see the number of beds quadruple at the facility.

Al Ain // When she was only seven years old Kathleen Kennedy would hold a torch while her mother delivered babies at night.

"I wasn't scared, I just wanted to help in any way," she said, recalling her younger years at Oasis Hospital in Al Ain, founded 50 years ago by her parents, Pat and Marian Kennedy.

Back then, "every birth was a crisis", she said.

"My mother would have to sometimes sleep on a bed next to the patient, who would be bleeding or needed blood, then my father would connect them with tubes. She was O negative [a universal donor] - so perfect for all."

Kathleen, her sister Nancy and their brothers, Scott and Douglas, arrived from the United States with their parents on November 20, 1960. Sheikh Zayed, the late President of the UAE, donated his guest house to use as the hospital.

Nancy's earliest memory was of sleeping next to a baby fox. The cub was a gift from a grateful patient.

"We never asked for money," said Kathleen, who attended a ceremony yesterday with her sibling to mark the anniversary of the hospital.

"But with Arabs, they never wanted to feel like they were in debt. So they would do this out of honour," she said.

"These women were so patient back then and used to wait in Sheikh Zayed's guest house. They would sit for hours after travelling for days where there was no air conditioning."

Although Pat and Marian Kennedy had been trained as family doctors, there were times when they had to perform operations.

"When a bullet is shot at weddings, the bullet has to go somewhere," Kathleen said.

Yesterday's celebration, attended by Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, was held at the Al Ain Palace Museum, his father's former home.

"I used to come here with my mum to visit Sheikha Fatima and her son Sheikh Mohammed," Nancy said.

"We were around the same age and grew up together. Back then the place was made of mud, not cement like today.

"Sheikh Mohammed was the sixth birth at the hospital. Of course we didn't know he would be a sheikh, but my mum was so proud later when we knew."

The sisters will spend the next few days visiting childhood friends who did not make it to the event. Their father died in 2000 and their mother in 2008.

"We already met many of our local friends when we got here, and some members of the Royal Family," said Nancy.

"When we sit together, we always laugh about how long it used to take us to go from one place to another. Every trip was an adventure."

Dr David Printy, the president and chief executive of Oasis Hospital, said he was thrilled the Kennedys had made it.

"In 1960, 35 per cent of women died in labour. Al Ain's population was 18,000 at that time and it was decreasing. The Kennedy family helped to put a stop to this.

"News of the Kennedys travelled across the region up to Syria, and we treated everyone, from labourers to Royal Family, whether they could pay or not."

When it was founded only 50 per cent of babies survived but now the infant mortality has been slashed to less than 1 per cent.

More than 90,000 babies have been born in the hospital, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

Today the hospital has 47 doctors and 50 private rooms. By 2012, the medical centre is expected to expand, with a Dh300 million hi-tech centre that will quadruple the number of beds.

During Kathleen's speech, which she delivered half in Bedu, she quoted her mother: "This is where we learnt to know some of the most wonderful people in the world."

 

osalem@thenational.ae