April 9, 2024
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April 9, 2024
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Raphael Shlomo Amzallag Emphasizes The ‘Power of Prayer’

The 11-year-old reached out to The Jewish Link to share his inspirational story.

A happy 11-year-old Raphael Shlomo Amzallag.

At the very end of my inspiring and uplifting interview with Raphael Amzallag, 11, and his charming mother, Galia, I learned that at his brit milah, Rav Shlomo Pinto, who was slated to be the sandak, was unable to attend. As Emile, Raphael’s father, had great reverence for Rabbi Pinto, he decided to add the name Shlomo to his son’s first name, Raphael. Armed with one name meaning “God will cure” and the second meaning “Godly peace,” Raphael Shlomo Amzallag is enthusiastically sharing his story of survival after six intensive open-heart surgeries, with the goal of giving chizuk to other young people challenged with medical conditions.

Looking at Raphael Shlomo, one sees a bright, lively and vital young boy, a keen sports fan and an avid basketball player. Nothing in his personality or appearance today would indicate the history of six complicated surgeries he has undergone since the age of 2 months.

Born in March 2012, in June of that year Raphael Shlomo was diagnosed with the non genetic condition known as tetralogy of Fallot, a birth defect that affects normal blood flow through the heart. At the time, he was the first of four children born to Galia and Emile Amzallag, both of Moroccan descent, hailing from Montreal and Toronto and now living in Fort Lee.

After undergoing the delicate surgery to repair his heart at NYU Langone Hospital, it was discovered that his lungs were collapsing. He remained in the hospital for close to one full month to restore his lungs to proper functioning.

In February 2013, before his first birthday, Raphael Shlomo was rushed to Columbia University where he was diagnosed with another condition, mitral valve stenosis, a narrowing of the valve between the two left heart chambers.. After his surgery, the condition returned eight months later, again requiring delicate surgery.

At age 3, in May 2015, it was decided that to prevent the return of mitral valve stenosis, a Melody pulmonary valve would be inserted into Raphael Shlomo’s heart. The procedure resulted in yet another complication, pulmonary hypertension, which kept the child at Columbia University Hospital for a complete month.

In September 2017, when he was 5, Raphael Shlomo returned to Columbia, to be given a mechanical valve, as the previous valve started failing. From Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur and the first days of Sukkot, he lay in the hospital, his parents and extended family constantly by his side. By this time, the family included brother Simon and was awaiting the birth of David. Raphael Shlomo was released in time for Simchat Torah, when his mother expressed her thanks to Hashem by becoming the Simchat Torah candy lady at their shul, The Sephardic Congregation of Fort Lee. She has held that role ever since.

The Amzallag family.

Just last June, in 2023, Rafael underwent a 10-hour open-heart surgery at Columbia University Hospital to repair a stenosis in his coronary artery. For a full week after the successful surgery, he was intubated and unable to communicate. He and his family are eternally grateful to Dr. Usha Krishnan, pediatric cardiologist and pulmonary hypertension specialist, with whom he checks in every three months. Through the doctor’s recommendation, the entire Amzallag family was given a trip to Disney World by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Raphael Shlomo wanted to share that while recovering from his last surgery, he met two Israeli youngsters waiting for heart transplants at Columbia. The three patients bonded and their families developed close friendships. The Amzallag family returned to the hospital for the festive release ceremony for one of the transplant patients and brought him several sets of Lego.

Today, Raphael Shlomo is a sixth grader at Lubavitch on the Palisades and his siblings, now including sister Sarah, attend RYNJ. Throughout his latest surgery both schools, students and administrators sent videos of chizuk and good wishes. Both schools also dedicated a day of learning to his refuah. The Sephardic Congregation of Fort Lee, led by Rabbi Ilan Acoca, reached out to the family and in addition to their tefillot and Tehillim for the youngster, organized challah bakes, hosted shiurim and arranged a Meal Train during his healing. “The gifts kept coming and coming, filling my hospital room and my home with games and delectable foods,” said Raphael Shlomo.

When asked why he suggested this story to The Jewish Link, he responded: “I wanted to share my experience with other children who may be going through similar experiences. I also wanted to tell them about the ‘power of prayer.’ For my Navi project at school, I wrote about how I am convinced that it was the power of the prayers recited by my family and the people around me that got me to the point I am at now. I play basketball every day and I feel great.”

A happy Raphael Shlomo Amzallag on his way home from Disney World.

His parents shared: “During these trying times, we realized how blessed we were to have the unending support of our families and tight-knit community. We witnessed such unity from people all over the world davening for our son which is the strength of am Yisrael, much like we’ve seen since October 7.”

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