United Hatzalah volunteers bring a 72-year-old water-sports enthusiast to the sea once a month. The bedridden patient says they have saved his life.
By: Raphael Poch/United Hatzalah via JNS
Earlier this month, United Hatzalah “Ten Kavod” volunteers from Kfar Saba set out on a mission to dramatically improve an elderly water-sports enthusiast’s quality of life by helping him experience the sea in a way that he had not done since a life-changing double amputation.
Yehuda, a 72-year-old from Kfar Saba, became bedridden as the result of a life-altering medical procedure gone wrong. The procedure led to a serious infection, causing him to lose both of his legs and severely damaging his spine. The United Hatzalah project brings Yehuda to visit the sea once a month and by doing so, has saved his life.
Yehuda and his wife, Tova, explained that his physical condition left him feeling hopeless to the point that he had made arrangements for voluntary euthanasia in Switzerland.
“Two years ago, Yehuda underwent an operation due to a slipped disk. He was swimming and wasn’t able to swim more than 70 meters. He used to swim extensively. I knew something was wrong and brought him to a doctor,” explained Tova, a former emergency-room chief nurse with five decades of experience.
“He received a series of epidural shots to deal with the pain. Soon afterwards, he started to lose the ability to move his legs. We brought him to the E.R., and we found that an infection from the shots had destroyed the blood vessels in his legs and damaged his spine. Yehuda suffered severe sepsis and had to have both of his legs amputated. The infection changed our lives forever,” said Tova. “Neither of us were what people would call ‘old.’ ” We were both very active. Then he had all of that taken away from him.”
“I don’t have much to live for or even to look forward to anymore,” said Yehuda. “I was ready to end everything. My wife and I still love each other. We have been married for 48 years. But the inability to move on my own is simply too much to deal with. The fact that I can’t swim or enjoy the water is very difficult for me.”
Living for the Special Moments
“The trips that United Hatzalah takes me on to see the sea are the only times that I have left to look forward to,” he continued. “I live in those moments when the volunteers come and take me to the sea. This past trip, when they organized for me to go on a yacht, was something that dreams are made of. I will remember it for the rest of my days,” he said.
“There are no words for the good that United Hatzalah has done for us,” added Tova. “Yehuda’s mind is fine, but his body is not. The ‘Ten Kavod’ project allows him to ‘escape’ from his body for a short time to remind him of the beauty in the world and the reasons to keep on living.”
Yehuda says he is thankful for the volunteers’ efforts in organizing these monthly trips, which are always done with an ambulance and experienced medical staff on hand to handle the logistics of transporting him and ready to assist him if needed during the trip. “The United Hatzalah team here is a team of angels—every single one of them. Whenever they visit, it gives me the ability to keep going. It gives me something to look forward to.”
‘They Lend Their Skills When Needed’
United Hatzalah’s “Ten Kavod” program sends fully trained medical volunteers to visit elderly patients, many of whom live on their own. The volunteers provide them with free medical checkups and companionship. Sometimes, as in Yehuda’s case, the volunteers do even more, providing the extra level of care and compassion.
Shmuel Agassi, an EMT and volunteer from Kfar Saba, visits Yehuda and Tova weekly, and was instrumental in making the trip a reality.
Together with Nitzan Raich, chapter head of United Hatzalah in Kfar Saba, Agassi reached out to volunteers who used their contacts to find a yacht large enough for Yehuda and a captain willing to assist. It took only a few hours to find the right vessel and the right person; yacht captain and United Hatzalah volunteer EMT Tzvika Sperling performed the necessary safety checks to ensure that Yehuda (and his bed), as well as his family, would be able to sail on his yacht safely.
“Our mission is to help the elderly in the city as much as possible with whatever they need,” said Raich. “For some of our patients, we perform electrical repairs in their homes or do other odd jobs around the house—anything that they need help with. We have volunteers who are electricians and others who are handymen. They each lend their skills when needed. Some of our patients don’t have much money, so we help them obtain basic groceries from volunteers who are food suppliers and store owners. Yehuda needs a different type of help.”
‘Supporting a Hero’
Raich said that in Yehuda’s case, the team is providing support to a hero who sometimes feels that he has lost his ability to do the things that brought him joy.
“Yehuda is a person who has given a lot to society, to our community, to the country in his service in the IDF and to his family. He has been through it all and survived it all. He loves his country and has even given a lot to us—the volunteers who help him.”
Raich acknowledged that preparing for the boat trip took more than two weeks of solid logistical work, “but we made it happen for Yehuda. He is a very special man, and everyone knows him and loves him, so all of our volunteers were happy to help.”
The three-hour trip was chaperoned by a fully equipped ambulance team on the boat, plus another team at the dock that transported Yehuda from his home to the marina and back. The boat was outfitted with special equipment that so that Yehuda could enjoy the trip from the deck while safely secured in his bed. “The joy that showed on his face was something that I will never forget,” said Sperling.
At the end of the day, Yehuda said to the volunteers: “Today was a compensation.”
“Compensation for what?” they asked.
“Compensation for the tragedy that I suffered through. You volunteers and what you do for me are a shining light amid an otherwise dark existence,” he said. “This boat ride for me was the greatest kindness that you could do. There are not enough words to thank you.”