My Life Was Saved – Now I Am Returning to Israel To Save Others

(This article originally appeared in Hebrew on the Yisrael Hayyom Website: )

President and Founder of United Hatzalah Eli Beer was released from Miami University Hospital on Monday morning after making a full recovery from Covid-19 Coronavirus. Eli had been sedated in an induced coma and intubated for almost three weeks. He told reporters from Yisrael Hayyom that: “I was fighting for my life, I underwent something that no one has ever done before.”  

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Eli being transported to Dr. Miriam Adelson’s private jet in Miami after being released from the hospital

Beer is scheduled to fly to Israel tonight leaving on the private jet of Dr. Miriam Adelson. He is 46-years-old and was one of the first Israelis to have contracted the virus. Even though he is relatively young and in good health, his condition rapidly deteriorated and he was put on a ventilator in an induced coma. Last week, he woke up and began his slow road to recovery. His family watched with bated breath from Israel.

“I saw my life from up above. I woke up after nearly a month of being unconscious. I didn’t know where I was that whole time. I was in a different world,” Beer said. “When I woke up they told me that Pesach had passed.”  

Beer said that the hospital is one of the best in the world. “There are many factors that the public isn’t aware of, among them are some medicines that saved my life. The emotional trauma is worse than the physical trauma. I haven’t been able to walk and I need to undergo physical therapy, but the emotional and psychological trauma is much worse. I was under very heavy drugs to sedate me. This is only the beginning of my recovery process.”

Beer recalled very clearly the moment that he woke up. “I woke up and someone told me, “Good morning, you’re going to live. Your body does not have Corona but you are generating antibodies.” They told me that I was healthy and that I now needed to recuperate. It was a great feeling. I didn’t have any fever.”

Beer said that there was a bit of discombobulation at first. “When I woke up I had no idea where I was, I thought I was in Switzerland. I had been under general anesthetic twice. Then it hit me that I was still in Miami. I didn’t even remember when I had arrived there. I asked when the seder is supposed to be and I was told that Pesach had passed.”

Beer said that he had some side-effects as a result of the medications that he took. “I had horrible dreams because of the medications. When I woke up and I looked out the window I didn’t recognize anything. I couldn’t use my phone for four days because I didn’t remember how to turn it on. It took me time to remember everything.”

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Eli reciting the Shema after returning to Israel more than a month after he was hospitalized.

When asked if he recalled how he came to the hospital Beer said: “I was hospitalized in very serious condition. I was supposed to participate in a Bar Mitzvah of a very important family but that got canceled. I really missed my family, especially my children. I travel to the United States for close to ten months of the year and I miss my children terribly. I told my children to come to the States for Purim so that we could be together for a few days. Two of my five children came. I went to shul dressed up as Superman and I felt great.  

The next day, during the Purim Seudah, I felt that something was wrong. I had a slight fever and I told myself that something wasn’t right. I thought I might have had strep. I called El Al and I flew my children home immediately. My whole life I’ve saved lives and  I was worried that I was infected and that God-forbid I could infect others. I rented a room at a hotel in order to stay isolated and I didn’t want to go outside at all. I stayed there for three days. When my fever rose, I took a pill and I got better. One night, there was an alarm and the Fire Department arrived. From that point onwards I couldn’t sleep. I called a trauma doctor that I know and I told him that I have had a fever for three days straight and I feel that something isn’t right. He sent me to get checked out at the hospital.”

“There was not a soul on the street, aside from three workers outside. It was a ghost town. I wore a mask and when Ii got to the hospital they came to see me and asked to do a chest x-ray. The doctor told me that I was heading down immediately to the intensive care unit (ICU). I asked him why? He told me that my lungs had collapsed. I was shocked as I am a healthy guy.

When he recounted the story of the phone call with his wife Gitty and his children, Beer broke down in tears. “I began to cry on the phone when I called my wife. I thought that I was going to die. Suddenly, at the age of 46, they are telling me that I am being sent to the ICU. I called Doctor Rivkin, he was fighting with them as to whether or not I needed to be sedated, but the hospital staff said that I needed sedation. I overheard the doctor say “we may not be able to revive him properly and we may need to do a tracheotomy. I did a double-take. I am here in the ICU instead of celebrating on the beach at a Bar mitzvah that I was supposed to attend. It was very traumatic for me.”

Eli’s daughter Avigail Beer held an interview with Yisrael Hayyom and spoke to them about what transpired to the family when they received the call telling them that Eli was hospitalized and in serious condition. The phone call came on Friday. 

“My mother was upstairs sleeping and I was building a puzzle with my siblings in the living room. When the phone rang I knew something wasn’t right because people don’t normally call at that hour. I answered the phone and it was my father. He had tried calling my mother’s cell phone earlier but she didn’t answer. I woke her up and gave her the phone. We knew that something was wrong.” 

“He sounded very weak and told us that they were going to sedate and intubate him. He said that this was the best thing that they could do for him at the time because he couldn’t breathe. That was it. Then he was pretty much gone for the rest of the time that he was on a ventilator. 

As an optimist, Avigail held on to the belief that her father would get better and recover. “He spoke to each of us separately. He asked me to send a message to my sister, who doesn’t live at home. He asked that we keep on doing acts of kindness for others, (chessed). He told us all that he loves us and that we shouldn’t worry.” 

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Avigail reunited with her father Eli in Israel after Eli’s return

From that point on Eli said that he didn’t remember anything.”A few days later they tried to take me off the ventilator, but because I had developed a serious case of pneumonia, they sedated me once again for another 18 days. This was a sedation that they had a lot of difficulty waking me up from. Every time they tried to wake me up my oxygen saturation levels dropped. My oxygen levels were very low. They tried all sorts of medications, among them was an anti-malaria drug. Dr. Miriam Adelson was continuously helping and standing by me. She cared for me. She assisted in helping to locate medication and in searching for other treatments. The person who took responsibility for my medical care on behalf of the organization and my family was Dr. Joel Sandberg, (father of Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook)  who is one of our International Board Members. Joel was involved with every medical decision that was made for me and was in charge of liaising between my family and the doctors at the hospital.”      

“I need to learn once again how to breathe, how to eat, how to walk.”

Beer reflected back on the time shortly after he woke up. “The thing that was hardest for me, and whoever hasn’t experienced it cannot know what it is like, is the emotional trauma involved in recuperation. This is so much more difficult than the physical pain. I was given drugs that made me hallucinate. I have never in my life taken drugs. I am against all those things. I had horrible dreams while I was hospitalized. I thought that the whole planet had died. I have no idea where this idea came into my head. But the personal side of things was much harder than the medical. I survived this ordeal because of the friends I have who stood by me.

Beer praised the staff of the hospital and the level of care he received. “A person doesn’t understand what medical treatment is until they have undergone this treatment in Miami. At the push of a button, the most amazing team rushed in to help me. It was not normal. They knew that I am the President of United Hatzalah and the President of the hospital checked in on me and called me to make sure that everything was okay. I could see that it was important to them that I leave the hospital healthy. Anything I asked for I received. They were not worried about payment, they only cared about giving me the best possible care. The care I received would be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.”  

More than anything else Beer is sad that he missed the holiday of Pesach. “All year long I don’t get to see my family. Instead, I am working hard to save lives. When I woke up, I was certain that I would get out of bed and go home to celebrate Pesach with my family. At first, they didn’t want to tell me the truth. How can you tell another Jew that they simply missed Pesach?”

With everything else going on, Beer didn’t miss an opportunity to get updated on what had happened with United Hatzalah, the organization that means so much to him, since he had been sedated. “I’ve spent my entire life giving to the people of Israel. I live very modestly. Perhaps two months of the year I’m actually at my own home. I give all of my time to United Hatzalah. We are active in numerous countries and we save almost 2,000 people per day.” 

“It took me a long time to come back to myself. I asked the CEO at United Hatzalah Eli Pollak, to give me a United Hatzalah story from the past few days. For a month I was under sedation, he updated me with what had gone on. He told me about the humanitarian dispatch center that receives hundreds of calls per day of people asking for help with a whole variety of problems due to the Coronavirus and the resulting social distancing. Each and every one of the Matnasim in Israel joined together in order to provide assistance to those who need it and whoever has a problem is calling United Hatzalah.”

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Eli getting off the plane in Israel

It hurts me so much to hear about what is going on in Israel. Eli (Pollak) told me that on Erev Pesach a holocaust survivor called the humanitarian dispatch center and was crying on the phone. She was stuck at a Corona Hotel and had no candles for the holiday. An Arab volunteer of ours went out on his ambucycle to purchase candles for her with his own money and dropped them off by her so that she could light them for the holiday.

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Ebrahim Ayuti holding the candles he purchased for the woman

I began to cry. Eli (Pollak) said to me: “While you were sleeping, we saved lots of lives.” I told myself that no matter what I wanted to return home immediately. Now, I am on my way home and I am overcome with emotions. I have never returned to Israel as emotional as I am now. I have had my life restored to me. I now need to relearn how to walk, how to eat, how to breathe.”

“In Miami, there is a team of medical staff that are teaching me how to breathe. Imagine for a minute that you didn’t breathe for 38 days. I am going home healthy and whole. One ofo the first things that I want to do is to donate blood so that I can save others.”

Eli flew to Israel on Dr. Miriam Adelson’s private jet. The jet was converted into an ambulance for him, complete with all the necessary state-of-the-art equipment required to monitor and maintain Eli in a stable and safe environment. A high-level trauma physician and a paramedic also accompanied Eli. 

In addition to his family and close friends, Eli said that he had never received such an outpouring of love. “I have never seen such an outpouring of love. People asked me how come there is such an outpouring of love towards me from other people. I responded that the feeling is mutual. I love people so much. United Hatzalah is an organization of more than 6,000 volunteers who dedicate their entire lives to helping others.” 

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Members of the procession in Miami hold signs wishing Eli a complete recovery and safe flight

“Now that I have fought for my own life and people prayed for me. Even in India people arranged a mass prayer event for me. People in Egypt prayed for me. I was in shock when I heard that. Now that I have woken up and returned to myself, I promise that what I have done until now in terms of saving other people’s lives, I will do tenfold. Now all that is left for me to do is to return to Israel and save lives. I have to do this.”