After Steve Sosebee’s Palestinian-born wife, Huda Sosebee, died of leukemia in July 2009, he wanted to do something to honor her legacy as a social worker in the Middle East.
Sosebee, who 22 years ago co-founded the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, a nonpolitical, nonprofit group that works to heal the wounds of war among children in the Middle East, attended the dedication of a $3 million pediatric cancer wing named for Huda at a hospital in Bethlehem on the West Bank earlier this month.
The Huda Al Masri Pediatric Cancer Department in Beit Jala Hospital is the only pediatric cancer department in the West Bank.
Sosebee has spent most of his time over the past few years in the Middle East, but also calls Kent his home.
Q: Tell me more about the volunteer effort to raise money for the department? Folks climbed mountains, rode motorcycles, ran marathons?
A: Yes, we had three different fundraising campaigns to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, which myself and my daughter also participated in. (She was only 14 at the time). We had over 400 volunteers running different stages of the 2012 Dubai Marathon. A man named Wissam Al-Jayyoussi rode a motorcycle alone for four months over 22 countries, from Dubai to Singapore, to raise money, and then many other efforts, like small fundraisings and private donors.
Q: Why is this a needed medical facility there?
A : There was no pediatric cancer department for Palestinian children in the occupied territories. This is the first one, and will help alleviate the suffering of hundreds of children annually, but also save the Ministry of Health millions of dollars in money they send outside [the West Bank] to treat their children.
Q: How many children will it be able to treat?
A: We open with 7, but can do up to 18 at a time.
Q: How many children has your organization treated?
A : We have provided specialized surgery, like cardiac, spine, plastic and so on to over 10,000 children, both from visiting medical teams ... and by also sending kids abroad for free care. We have seven kids in the USA for treatment now.
Q: Talk about how you were inspired to lead the effort for this cancer department?
A: I went through loving and caring for my wife during her six months of illness, and [saw] how much she suffered, despite the great care and compassion that she got at the Ireland Cancer Center at University Hospital in Cleveland. Even with the best possible care in the world, she still was under terrible strain and suffered greatly. When I found that there was no cancer department specialized for Palestinians, I imagined what it would have been like for my wife and my family had she had to have had her treatment in Palestine under such circumstances. I wanted to do something to honor her great legacy and memory as a humanitarian, but also to address this problem … I did some research and started a project to build this department.
Q: Are you living overseas mainly now?
A: Yes, for the past several years my daughters and I have been living in the West Bank, except for the summer, when I work out of my Kent, Ohio, office.
Q: When this is opened, what will you focus on next?
A: We need to build a blood bank for this department and hospital, which is a big project, but also we are starting a project to build a program for pediatric cardiac surgery in the Gaza Strip. On [a recent] Sunday, a 10-member team that we are sending from the USA and Italy arrived in Gaza to start a two-week surgery and training program, the first one in Gaza. Four hundred babies a year there need open-heart surgery and they have no treatment locally. This is our next big campaign, in addition to continuing to do our work in bringing in volunteer surgery teams ... and also sending kids out for treatment.
Q: How has the passing of your wife changed you and your focus on the mission of the organization?
A: This is a difficult question. On a personal level, it has left me with a hole in my heart and in my spirit. I used to believe strongly that if you did good, then good things happen to you. And for many years, that was true. I had a wonderful wife, two beautiful daughters, we were very happy and doing what we loved. Then my wife got sick and I had to helplessly watch her slowly die — the fear and pain and terrible suffering that she endured with great courage. I don’t feel that way about fate any more.
On the other hand, from a professional perspective, it has made me just as determined to use what little time each of us has here to maximize my determination and abilities to make this organization I started something that is effective in helping children in the Middle East, particularly Palestinian, get the medical care they need despite their terrible circumstances. It is an honor for me to serve this cause in a positive manner, to work for peace by healing the wounds of war and poverty, and to carry forth the memory of my wife, a great woman who helped so many, by not giving in to grief or depression, but to serve as a model for my daughters to follow so they can also work for justice, freedom and to help those who cannot help themselves.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.