.- The Knights of Malta-operated Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem is expecting the imminent delivery its 50,000th baby after 20 years of operation. Its backers have created a website “birth clock” to track the approach of the landmark.
As of Oct. 5, 49,824 babies had been delivered. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta reopened Holy Family Hospital in 1990 as a maternity hospital which refuses no one on the basis of race, religion or ability to pay.
A girl named Dina Atik was the first baby delivered on Feb. 26, 1990. Her parents Marlen and Edward had married a year earlier at the Church of the Nativity.
While the hospital has since become the premier institution of the district, the first-time mother Marlen was afraid because the medical center had just opened. “The staff was very nice and everybody was calming me down,” she said. “When Dina was born, everybody was so happy.”
The hospital's first baby was later baptized in the hospital garden, and the French consul was named her godfather.
Since her birth, Dina has survived the second intifada, become a basketball player, and joined her Catholic school's scout troop. She is now engaged to be married and is a second-year student in business administration at Bethlehem University, though her travel is limited by the restrictions placed upon Bethlehem residents.
In addition to delivering babies, Holy Family Hospital also provides outreach through a mobile van. Hospital staff visit three locations in the Judean desert every week. Scores of women and children from remote hillside communities visit the vans for medial services.
The medical outreach teams provide prenatal exams, lab tests, pediatric exams and gynecological exams. They also teach mothers about hygiene and childcare while observing living conditions. In an average stop, the team examines 30 expectant mothers who are in desperate need of prenatal care.
Colleen Marotta, executive director of the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem Foundation, said that the families live in “dreadful poverty and isolation.”
“They live in canvas tents or metal shacks with no running water, no electricity and no sanitation. They live in extended family groups of 20-40 … outcasts of a cast-out population.”
Marotta explained that the hospital foundation's website has a special resources section with stories about mothers and babies whose lives have been saved by the hospital. Website visitors will find features about the mobile outreach clinics and staff members. “And they’ll learn more about the various ways they can assist the hospital in its ongoing mission to provide a safe haven and the highest quality health care for mothers and newborns in the West Bank,” she commented.
The Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem Foundation's website and the “birth clock” are at www.BirthplaceofHope.org.