United Hatzalah Volunteers Conduct Two In-Flight Rescues in Two Days

Over the course of two days, United Hatzalah EMS volunteers conducted two in-flight rescues on different airlines across the globe. 


The first incident took place on Monday on an Alitalia flight between Mexico and Rome when a 50-year-old man lost consciousness and required assisted breathing. United Hatzalah volunteer EMT Yossi Refaeli, who has family and business in Mexico and travels to the country multiple times a year, was on the flight and responded to the announcement by the flight attendants requesting medical assistance with one of the passengers. 


“After the announcement was made, I stood up and approached the crew who directed me to a passenger who had lost consciousness and had trouble breathing,” Refaeli recounted. “I asked for the medical kit on the plane and began to provide assisted breathing to the passenger. He was in very serious condition and I told the crew that we needed to land the plane as soon as possible and to instruct the ground crew to have a mobile intensive care ambulance waiting to receive the passenger. The plane landed and the passenger was transferred to the ambulance to be taken to the nearest hospital. I don’t know what his status is now but the treatment we provided on the plane and the fact that we got him to the hospital quickly gave him the best chance at survival.” 

Yossi Refaeli treating the patient mid-flight

The second incident occurred on Wednesday on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Israel. United Hatzalah volunteer EMT Yehezkel Rosenbaum from Kiryat Malachi was flying back home after a short visit to Hong Kong. He was relaxing when the flight crew asked for medical assistance over the intercom. Rosenbaum stood up and approached the crew who brought him to a patient who had fainted. He was joined by a nursing student, who was also on the flight, and the pair took a full set of vitals when the patient regained consciousness. They gave him sweet juices and sugar water to help raise his blood sugar. 


“The man’s vitals came back inconclusive as we couldn’t do a proper check of his blood sugar levels due to problems with the glucometer inside the on-board medical kit,” explained Rosenbaum. “We gave him sugar water and other sweet liquids and he regained consciousness fully. The nursing student and I took turns staying with him for the rest of the flight. As the danger seemed to have passed, we told the crew that there was no immediate need to land and the flight continued to Israel. As a gesture of goodwill, the flight crew gave me a voucher for $50 dollars that I told them was unnecessary, but they insisted.”  

yehezkel rosenbaum

Refaeli had some advice for medical personnel flying based on these experiences. “I recommend that EMTs, as well as all medical professionals,  sleep a bit less on flights and be aware of what is going on around them. If you are asleep on the flight you might miss the announcement if an emergency is taking place. Had I been sleeping or missed the announcement this person would not have received the treatment when he did and we may have arrived with a body instead of a live patient.”  


Both airlines expressed their thanks to the volunteer EMTs for their assistance during these emergencies. “This is what we do,” said Rosenbaum. “Helping people no matter where one happens to be is the spirit and ethos of what it means to be a volunteer with United Hatzalah.” 


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The Emergency Rescue That Took 4 Days

On Wednesday last week, an Israeli hiker began a popular three-day trek in India in the Himalayan mountains known as the Brighu Lake Trek. The trek is located close to the village of Manali where Chabad Rabbi and United Hatzalah volunteer EMT Menachem Bakush lives with his family. Towards the top of the mountain, at an altitude of 5,200 meters, the young Israeli hiker fainted. According to locals in the area, she was unable to move at all. 

Bakush treating the hiker in the middle of the trek

Bakush is known throughout the region as being a first response EMT and received a call from some of the local residents alerting him to the medical emergency. “I got a call on Wednesday about the girl who was hiking and fainted. The locals in the area told me that she was unable to move or walk and that she needed medical assistance urgently. I grabbed my gear and headed over to the mountain trek. I was met by a local guide who carried my bag as we ran up the hill.” 


Bakush and his guide did a trek that normally takes a full day in a number of hours. He relayed the story of the first part of the dramatic rescue. 


“When I arrived at the location where the woman had fainted, I saw that she was still unable to move. I suspected she might have altitude sickness and she was showing signs of having a High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)  or Cerebral Edema (HACE), both of which can be fatal conditions. I gave her oxygen and glucogel to help alleviate the effects of the altitude and then, together with the guide, we were able to bring her down the mountain. At first, we carried her on a makeshift stretcher but then we found a horse and placed her on it. When we got to the bottom of the mountain, we took her in a car to the nearest medical center for checkups.” 


Bakush then returned home to Manali and his family. On Friday night, he got a call from the clinic alerting him that the woman he brought in was not doing well and that she needed to be flown to a hospital immediately for further treatment. Bakush said goodbye to his family and rushed to the clinic and began making preparations. He organized a flight for the next morning and accompanied the woman to a hospital in New Delhi. Over the course of the flight, he had the woman hooked up to a health monitor so that he could monitor her vital signs continuously.

Bakush monitoring the patient mid-flight

“The flight was tense. It was a small plane and we had to rush so that she could get the treatment she needed. When we arrived in New Delhi I made sure that she was checked into the hospital and that she was being treated. I also made sure that the embassy was in contact with her family back in Israel. Then I got on a bus and took the 12-hour ride back home to Manali. I arrived well after Shabbat ended. The whole ordeal from start to finish took four days and showed me once again how important it is to have proper health insurance while traveling. Without help from her insurance company, the entire situation would have ended differently.”  


In addition to being a Chabad shaliach, Bakush responds to medical emergencies all over the region. Over the past two months, he saved an Israeli hiker who fell down a mountain and a local Indian man who drowned in a pool. Even though helping others comes at great cost to Bakush in terms of time and effort, he is happy to do it.  “Emergencies happen here all the time. I am glad that I can provide assistance to those in the area who need it.” 


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United Hatzalah Holds Special Training and Social Gathering For Women’s Unit in Jerusalem

On Monday evening, a special event took place at United Hatzalah of Israel’s headquarters in Jerusalem.  The organization held a special training session and social gathering for the women who comprise the women’s unit and the midwives unit in the greater Jerusalem area. 

Director of the Women’s Unit Gitty Beer said: “The point  of the event was to have all of these women who give of themselves and their time to rush out and help others, a chance to meet one another, share stories, build connections with one another and thank them for all that they do. On top of managing their families and their jobs, they still manage to drop everything when an emergency happens and rush out to save a life. This is no simple task. These women are truly heroes.” 

The evening commenced with a special dinner prepared by none other than Beer’s daughter, Penina. The evening included a concert as well as an educational component in which guest speakers expanded upon some of the finer elements of EMS work.

“The women’s unit responds to all types of emergency medical calls, but their primary task is providing a much-needed response to particularly delicate calls specific to women. During these emergencies, our unit provides an extra element of care to an already traumatic situation. We’ve found that having a woman treat another woman makes the patient feel more comfortable, as the EMT understands the patient a little bit better than her male counterparts would,“ said Beer.

Unit Director Gitty Beer talking to the gathered women at the event

The evening was a small token of the organization’s appreciation for these hard-working and dedicated volunteers. It is important to us, as an organization, that we show our volunteers the appreciation that they deserve.

Currently the Women’s Unit numbers some 150 volunteers who serve in the communities of Jerusalem, Beitar Illit, Beit Shemesh, Modi’in Illit and Bnei Brak. The Unit is looking to expand to other communities in which this extra level of sensitivity is requested by the community.

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Kiev and Israel Prepare For Uman

On Monday, a preparatory meeting took place in the Israeli consulate in Kiev ahead of the annual mass pilgrimage of Jews to Uman for Rosh Hashanah. 

Israel Delegation in Kiev at the Embassy

Organizers expect that the annual pilgrimage to the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, which is located in the relatively small town of Uman, will surpass 50,000 people this year. In light of the massive amount of visitors, most of whom come from Israel, Israel’s Foreign Ministry organized a meeting of the major organizations involved in running and securing the event. Among those present were Israeli Ambassador to the Ukraine Mr. Joel Leon, a representative of Israel’s police force, local health agencies and law enforcement and Chief Operations Director for United Hatzalah David Krispel.  


During the meeting, each representative presented a summation of the previous year’s operation. In addition, Krispel presented the gathered panel with the operational plan for the health management of the pilgrimage for the upcoming celebration. Included in the plan was the oversight and operation of the local medical clinic operated and run by United Hatzalah volunteers, as well as how the organization plans to equip and dispatch volunteer first responders and ambulance teams throughout the town over the holiday.  


Krispel showed the gathered representatives the map outlining the sign placements as well as emergency medical service points that are being set up in the town. The in-depth details given at the meeting were well received by local authorities who will be able to use the information to coordinate their efforts together with those of United Hatzalah during the holiday.  


Towards the end of the meeting, the commanding officer of emergency services for the region praised the cooperation between the organization and local authorities that took place last year and said that he wishes to strengthen that cooperation and establish a joint training drill prior to the influx of the tens of thousands of visitors expected this year.  

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Will Measels Tarnish Rosh Hashana In Uman This Year Again

 Last winter a drastic increase in measles cases was documented both in Israel and the United States. According to information that was received by the Health Ministries in both Israel and the United States the disease was spread by those who contracted the disease during their stay in Rosh Hashanah in Uman visiting the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.

The Scene From Rosh Hashanah in Uman in 2018

Additionally, two workers in the Oxford Medical clinic that was working in Uman last year, and this year will be run in partnership with United Hatzalah contracted measles while they were in Uman. After they returned to Israel it was discovered that they had contracted the disease and brought it back with them to Israel. 


It was also reported that the head of the Breslov Institutions in Tzefat (Safed) was hospitalized last year after he too contracted the disease while he was in Uman for Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Koenig was hospitalized in Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and was in serious condition.


Rabbi Yisrael Klein who heads the medical clinic in Uman also contracted the measles during his work at the clinic helping the thousands of people who had medical emergencies during the holiday last year, asked the public to vaccinate against the measles prior to their arrival in the city.


As the area around Uman has also seen an outbreak of measles in recent months Israel’s Health Ministry has also asked the public to vaccinate against the measles before heading to Ukraine for the holiday. “People born in 1957 and onwards should have both measles vaccinations prior to their departure for Uman. Children over six months of age traveling abroad should receive at least one dose of the vaccine before traveling.” 


President and Founder of United Hatzalah Eli Beer also asked the public to vaccinate in order to avoid endangering others. “It is the protocol that all first responders involved in our organization must be fully vaccinated against the measles. However, with the thousands of visitors to the city of Uman over the holiday, I urge everyone to take upon themselves the responsibility of vaccinating before they come so as not to risk the lives of the other participants or their families when they return home. The outbreak of measles in New York and Israel, which both have been traced in part to people who spent the holiday in Uman in recent years has already cost the Jewish people dearly. It would be a tragedy that if someone who only wants to spend the holiday visiting the grave of Rebbe Nachman would be responsible for the avoidable death of innocent people.”

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United Hatzalah Holds Self Defense Classes For First Responders Following Wave Of Violence

Following numerous instances where volunteer first responders from United Hatzalah were physically attacked while responding to medical emergencies in the cities of Kfar Saba and Ra’anana, the organization has begun free self-defense training sessions for volunteers in these cities. The training course is a three-part series that gives the first responders the basic skills of how to defend themselves or their patients at a scene that sees violence take place.

Participants in the Self-Defense class

“As part of our EMT training classes, we teach all of our responders that scene safety is the most important factor that an EMT needs to consider when approaching a scene. It is the protocol to only enter a scene once it is safe. In spite of that, over the past few months, our volunteers have encountered numerous instances of violence where the scene was deemed safe at the onset of the incident but then spiraled into a situation where our volunteers themselves were attacked by someone at the scene. These people are often the patients themselves who took a few minutes to regain their strength before lashing out at someone at the scene,” explained Nitzan Reich, Chapter Head of United Hatzalah for Ra’anana and Kfar Saba.


Reich initiated the course after his volunteers were attacked and sent a message to the other chapter heads of the organization around the country inviting volunteers from other chapters who likewise suffered attacks to join the course. 


“The list for course if full, but we will make room to other first responders who have suffered violence in order to show our support for them,” he wrote in the message. 


Reich explained some of the difficulties faced by first responders who drop whatever they are doing to go treat an injured person only to be attacked themselves. “These instances were times when there was serious violence taking place and police were also at the scene. For many of our volunteers, these instances have been the first time that they were in these types of situations where they themselves were attacked. Even though police resecured the scenes quickly, our volunteers were left with dilemmas regarding how to proceed. Are they allowed to treat the person who just attacked them? How should they proceed?” 


“We are trying to give our volunteers tools to use in the field so that they can better learn how to identify potential threats so as to prevent an attack as well as what to do in cases where nothing else works and they do get attacked,” Reich added. “We’ve invited professional trainers who have dealt with these scenarios before and we are starting with one round of self-defense sessions. We will see if there is more demand on behalf of the volunteers after this initial course concludes.” 


The first class took of the current course took place on Thursday evening last week in Kfar Saba and saw more than 20 first responders from Kfar saba and the surrounding area learn new techniques. 

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Israeli Rabbi and EMT Saves Life of a Drowning Victim in India

United Hatzalah volunteer EMT and Chabad Rabbi Menachem Bakush was called upon to save the life of a local Indian man who drowned in a nearby village named Majach. 

Bakush performing CPR

Bakush, who lives in Manali, keeps a fully stocked medical kit from United Hatzalah with him wherever he goes rushed over to the village and began performing CPR on the young man. After an intense bout of CPR Bakush was successful at restoring the man’s pulse and he revived at the scene while they were waiting for transportation to arrive.

“I often get called by local people here in Manali or neighboring villages to assist when medical emergencies occur,” Bakush admitted. “My mission is to help others and that is exactly what I am doing,” he added. “Even though the incident was somewhat far from Manali, I went and I managed to save this man’s life thank God.” 

Bakush has been the local Chabad Shaliach in Manali for the past five months. He and his family will be staying for another month before returning to Israel.  

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Last Night I Hugged A Palestinian I Had Never Met Before

The most important thing to realize is that we are all people. Last night I hugged a Palestinian man whom I had never met before outside the southern gate of Efrat, the town in which I live. I, together with other first responders, had just attempted to resuscitate his father. He had brought his father to the gate seeking medical assistance as his father had been suffering chest pains and was unconscious. 

Raphael and his ambucycle

The situation transpired just as I was leaving a different medical emergency inside Efrat where a man fainted. After successfully treating that man, I received the emergency call regarding the second medical emergency and raced over to the southern gate where CPR was already in progress. Responders who were closer than I was also rushed out of their homes, leaving their families, their children and their beds, to help a man they didn’t know, and sadly never would. 


After 40 minutes of intense CPR in which we brought a pulse back for a very short time only to lose it once again, the man flatlined and the assembled team of first responders which included a doctor, two paramedics, and a few EMTs, were instructed to stop resuscitative efforts. 


By this time, the son had been joined at the scene by his brother, his wife and other family members who were all waiting anxiously watching the CPR, hoping for a positive outcome- one that never came. One of the paramedics walked over to the two sons and explained the situation as kindly and as gently as he could. “We did everything we could,” he said. “We weren’t able to save him. I am sorry for your loss.” 


As the paramedic was talking to the family, the rest of the team cleaned up the scene, throwing out all of the used medical supplies and bringing a sheet to cover the body. The look on the face of the son is one that I will never forget. It was a look of a broken heart. 


The paramedic left and a police officer came over to take the son’s statement and help him organize plans for what to do with the body. It was at this point that I excused myself and stepped in. “You are the son of this man?” I asked. He replied in the affirmative. I looked into the son’s eyes and without further thought, I stepped forward and gave him a big hug. “I share in your sadness,” I told him. 


The Palestinian man who I was hugging was stunned. He was not expecting to receive a hug from a Jewish EMT. It took him a second but then he embraced me back, strongly. As he cried into my shoulder he simply said, “Thank you.”  We hugged for a minute or so. Then I turned to his brother and I hugged him. He was stunned as well but equally grateful. “Thank you,” he told me. “You have given us some comfort.” 


After I stepped away, one of the other EMTs came over and repeated my gesture. During his hug, the second EMT, also Jewish, told the deceased man’s sons: “You no longer need to worry, your father is in heaven. He’s up there together with Allah.” I added to the message: “He is also no longer in pain. He is at peace.” This resulted in another round of thanks from the gathered family members. 


With this small gesture of comfort, I helped these two men understand that I saw them as people, as people who are in pain and who needed comfort. I passed on a message that while we may have different nationalities and languages, I respect them and I wish to help alleviate the pain that they are suffering in whatever small way that I can. In spite of my efforts, I couldn’t change the outcome of their father’s state, but I could help these men by offering some comfort where they didn’t expect it. For me, empathy surpasses all boundaries, nationalities, languages, religions, and politics. The empathy I felt and showed at that moment is part of the job and part of being human. 


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When A Doctor Arrives To Deliver A Baby On The Side Of The Road

Recently one Thursday afternoon, an 18-year-old man was involved in a car accident in Jerusalem. Having witnessed the accident, a 35-year-old woman had to stop her car behind the vehicles involved. While waiting for the incident to clear, she went into active labor at the side of the road. 

The scene of the accident and birth

United Hatzalah volunteer Dr. Ariel Lifschitz was standing near his ambucycle not far from the location, accompanying a summer festival procession in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem. He received the first emergency alert from United Hatzalah’s Dispatch and Command Center alerting him to the accident. He jumped on his ambucycle and flicked on his lights and sirens.  The crowd quickly moved back to make way for the volunteer physician, who sped off to the roadside birth.


A United Hatzalah ambulance driver was bringing an ambulance to a mass casualty training exercise in a forested area – en route he was alerted to the woman in labor. The driver (sans crew) raced to the scene in time to help deliver a baby boy! Ariel pulled up alongside the ambulance. He triaged the injured motorcycle rider and saw that his injuries were not life-threatening. He then rushed over to the woman in time to cut the umbilical cord, suction fluids and perform a rapid APGAR exam. The volunteer physician congratulated the parents and helped transfer the mother to an arriving municipal ambulance. He then assisted the crew and attached an IV for access to restorative fluids. 


The woman and her little boy were then whisked off to Hadassah Medical Center for further observation;  Dr. Lipshitz then turned his attention back to the young motorcyclist. The man had been wounded by a passing vehicle and needed some bandages and treatment. Dr. Lifschitz treated him and made sure that he was stable before he too was transported to the emergency room for X-rays.


Dr. Lifschitz and his ambucycle are not only saving lives, they are helping to bring them safely into this world. 


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Saving Lives In Bat Ayin

Bat Ayin is a small town with roughly 2,000 inhabitants located in Gush Etzion. The town has many unpaved dirt roads and no street numbers, which makes finding people who are suffering from medical emergencies nearly impossible for anyone unfamiliar with the town or driving standard vehicles.


Yaakov overlooking Bat Ayin

United Hatzalah volunteer EMT Yaakov Meir Fragin is an ambucycle driver who has lived in Bat Ayin his entire life. He runs the local grocery store and knows the town and the surrounding area like the back of his hand. In addition to being an EMT, Yaakov is also part of his town’s emergency preparedness team. His lifesaving skills and intimate knowledge of the area make him the perfect person to respond to any emergency in the vicinity. 


Yaakov’s ambucycle enables him to race down local paths and alleyways to respond to medical emergencies in the town in the fastest time possible.  


Last Wednesday, a young woman was washing her hands at the entrance to the midrasha when she suddenly collapsed in convulsions. Her friends urgently called for help.


The alert came out as an incident occurring on “Hamayanot street” and no further information was given. Being familiar with the area, Yaakov knew exactly where the midrasha was and raced over on his ambucycle, zooming down the dirt path and arriving in mere seconds.


Yakov found the 23-year-old victim collapsed on the ground, semiconscious after having had a seizure. During the uncontrollable convulsions, she had bitten her tongue and there was a large amount of blood pooled in her mouth. Yaakov carefully cleared the fluids from the woman’s mouth to secure and maintain a clear airway. Then, he checked her vitals and was in communication with the nearest ambulance to direct them to the exact location. The ambulance took nearly 20 minutes to arrive, and during the entire time, Yaakov continued to provide treatment. As the woman began to recover, Yaakov learned that she was otherwise healthy and had no prior history of seizures, which made this incident all the more concerning. 


Thankfully, the dedicated volunteer was there right away to treat her and keep her stable until the ambulance crew could arrive and transport her to the hospital. 


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