Daughter’s last wish: a hospital spa for patients’ parents

Gil and Karen Devora suffered the heartbreak of losing 14-year-old Ella to rare cancer. Ella’s Spa gives other patients’ parents much-needed TLC.

For many years, Gil Devora volunteered in the children’s oncology unit at Sheba Medical Center in Israel. He was inspired by his mother, who has also been a volunteer at the hospital for the past 42 years.

Devora, a high-tech executive, said he liked to joke around with the children, to make them laugh, to talk about their dreams. He knew every doctor and nurse on the ward.

He never thought, “never in my worst nightmare,” he says, that his daughter, Ella, would be a patient in that very same ward and that she would die at 14 from rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that most often affects children.

To honor his daughter’s memory, Devora and his wife, Karen Delaney-Devora, opened Ella’s Spa in Sheba on May 15, which would have been Ella’s 15th birthday.

The spa offers free treatment for parents of children with cancer. All the people who work in the spa are volunteers.

The family is now raising money to open spas in other hospitals in Israel.

Ella’s dream

Ella, says her father, was sick for two years and nevertheless “thought of other people before she thought of herself.”

A month before Ella died, she donated her guitar and drums to children in the ward.

And she mentioned that she thought it would be a good idea to have a spa for parents of patients.

As Devora explained, “Parents don’t feel comfortable going to get a haircut or have a massage when their children are so sick.”

But “they also need to take care of their own bodies and souls,” and when children see that their parents feel good, he said, they feel better.

That’s why Devora and his wife decided to follow through on Ella’s dream of a spa right in the hospital.

Ella Devora with her mother, Karen Delaney-Devora. Photo courtesy of the Devora family

The project was done in cooperation with Rachashei Lev, a nonprofit organization for children with cancer, which operates on the Sheba campus for children in treatment and their families. The spa was built through donations – even the building contractor and architect volunteered their services.

Ella’s Spa offers massages, facials and manicures as well as a jacuzzi bath and sauna, free of charge to all parents of pediatric cancer patients. Cozy white bathrobes are included.

Like another world

During the two years that Ella was treated at Sheba, her parents made a commitment to “have as much fun as possible” doing things together as a family, including their son, Tomer, now 17.

Ella Devora with her brother, Tomer. Photo courtesy of the Devora family

Two months before Ella died, they started to plan a trip to Seychelles, even though Ella’s doctor warned them against it.

“But we still wanted to take her so she could swim and be on the beach,” Devora said. “I realized it was impossible to save her.”

He also realized that not everyone can take family trips when their child is sick. But Ella’s Spa can be like a mini-vacation because it gives the feeling of being “in another world,” he said.

“When you open the door, you feel like you’re in a spa in a five-star hotel.”

Devora said that he no longer volunteers at the hospital. He doesn’t want to tell parents with children being treated there that he lost his daughter. He wants them to have hope.

“Through Ella’s Spa, she is still touching people, giving them something,” he said.

“She died after being on earth for only 14 years but she still brought a lot of meaning to the world.”

About the Author

Diana Bletter is the author of books including A Remarkable Kindness and The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women, a National Jewish Book Award nominee. A graduate of Cornell University and resident of Israel since 1991, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and many other publications.

New York Jewish Parenting Guide

Tutti-frutti chewing gum to halt kids’ sugar craving

Tiny amounts of an Indian bitter herb block taste receptors for two hours, says Israeli startup.

New chewing gum will halt kids’ craving for sugar, thanks to an ancient bitter herb.

Israeli food-tech startup Sweet Victory says tiny amounts of Gymnema sylvestre block the sugar receptors on their tongues for two hours, reducing the desire for sweet food or drink — and making them taste bland or even sour.

The company launched a mint-flavored version for adults in January and is now developing a tutti-frutti gum for kids, which should hit the market later this year.

Both the child and adult versions contain Gymnema, a naturally bitter-tasting botanical herb that has traditionally been used for over 2,000 years in Indian alternative medicine to stabilize blood-sugar levels. The gum is flavored to mask its bitterness.

Trials in Israel, the United States, and France showed children enjoyed the gum – and couldn’t eat sweets afterward, the company said. The active ingredient blocks sugar receptors on the tongue within two minutes.

“The biggest challenge in developing this gum for kids was to create boldly fruit-flavored chewing gum to overcome the bitterness of the herb Gymnema,” said Shimrit Lev, a nutritional instructor who jointly founded the company in 2020 with psychologist Gitit Lahav.

Lev and Lahav developed the children’s version of the gum, with a lower dose of Gymnema, in collaboration with Swiss flavor and fragrance manufacturer Givaudan.

“They helped us refine the product and develop a very flavorful, yet highly effective product—a sweet treat that can change eating behavior and help parents control their kids’ daily sugar consumption,” said Gitit.

Patients with sugar cravings reported beneficial effects from chewing the gum three times a day in a small study at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan.

“The gum does not change the taste buds permanently; it just occupies the sweet receptors for a specific time. Most people use it during the hours they crave sugar,” said Gitit.

Further clinical research is planned for diabetic patients, with endocrinologists at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.

By John Jeffay (isarel21c)


Kit lets ill astronauts self-diagnose while in outer space

No trained personnel or complicated equipment is needed to perform tests identifying viruses and bacteria infecting the space crew.

A unique experiment aboard the International Space Station proved that a diagnostic kit developed in Israel can precisely identify viruses and bacteria infecting crew members during space missions.

Astronaut Eytan Stibbe conducted the experiment as part of the Ramon Foundation and Israel Space Agency’s Rakia mission to the International Space Station in April.

The study was led by Dudu Burstein from the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research at Tel Aviv University, and Gur Pines from the Volcani Center Agricultural Research Organization.

The CRISPR-Cas (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) system protects bacteria from viruses. Bacteria use CRISPR-Cas as a sort of molecular “search engine” to locate viral sequences and disable them.

According to Burstein, the results of the experiment proved the possibility of performing precise CRISPR-based diagnosis even in an environment with virtually no gravity.

This method requires minimal equipment and is easy to operate, allowing rapid diagnosis of diseases and pathogens even on longer explorations of the Moon and Mars.

Burstein explained that conditions in space are “extremely problematic, and treatment methods are limited. So it is essential to identify pathogens in a rapid, reliable, and straightforward method. Tests like PCR, which we are now all familiar with, require trained personnel and relatively complex equipment.”

The kit prepared by doctoral student Dan Alon and researcher Karin Mittelman for Stibbe to test in space, he said, allows “the whole process to be conducted in one tiny test tube, so it can suit the astronauts’ needs.”

Such kits, he concluded, “may help future astronauts on their extraterrestrial missions.”

About the Author

Diana Bletter is the author of books including A Remarkable Kindness and The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women, a National Jewish Book Award nominee. A graduate of Cornell University and resident of Israel since 1991, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and many other publications.