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Our Patients, Our Doctors

Diary of A Director General
By Prof. Ehud Kokia
Director General, Hadassah Medical Organization

From time to time when I park my car in the lot at Hadassah-Ein Kerem, I see a helicopter arriving at the landing pad nearby. As the doors open and our team rushes a patient or two to the Trauma Unit, I wonder who the patients are and what happened to them that required their emergency transport. I often learn about the circumstances and the patients' condition during the day, but I don't usually know what happens to them when they leave our Medical Center, yet frequently, the lives of our patients and their doctors become intertwined. This week I heard what happened to one such patient since that day in August of 1998 when a helicopter brought her to Hadassah.

When 16-year-old Stacey Plax arrived in Israel from London on a Zionist youth movement program, she anticipated seeing the country from top to bottom. She never imagined she would be transported by helicopter from the middle of the desert to Jerusalem – from the site where the jeep she was in overturned to Hadassah's Intensive Care Unit.

At that time, Prof. Uri Elchalal and Prof. Charles Sprung never would have imagined they would dance at Stacey's wedding. They were not even sure she would live. But dance they did, just a few weeks ago in Tel Aviv. Stacey doesn't remember the dramatic rescue that saved her life or many of the difficult days that followed, but these doctors became part of her life and part of her family. "As you can imagine, Hadassah, and particularly Charlie Sprung and Uri Elchalal, have very special places in our hearts," says Stacey's mother, Karen.

Prof. Elchalal was first on the scene of the traumatic accident as an airborne physician in the Air Force's renowned Search and Rescue Unit doing reserve duty. At the time he was already part of Hadassah's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology where he now heads the High Risk Pregnancy Clinic. Coping calmly and competently with high risk situations seems to come naturally to him. As a flight surgeon who served in the Search and Rescue Unit during my career in the Israeli Air Force, and parenthetically, as a gynecologist, I can completely relate to Prof. Elchalal's experience.

“When we arrived, I immediately saw that the situation was very bad,” Prof. Elchalal says. “Stacey was unconscious and scarcely breathing. Although we rarely perform surgery on site, I knew she had a matter of minutes.” So there in the middle of the desert, he opened a passage in her trachea to keep her breathing, to keep her alive. “The helicopter saved her life,” he says, modestly ignoring the fact that without his quick thinking, there would not have been a life to save.

At Hadassah, the trauma team made the first assessment of their comatose patient before she was whisked into the operating room where surgeons worked to repair her shattered nose and jaw, and stabilize her injured brain. Stacey was then transferred to the General Intensive Care Unit, which Prof. Sprung heads. A few days later, she emerged from her coma. “We were not sure if there was brain damage,” Prof. Sprung says, “but she recovered completely.” After some time in the Intensive Care Unit, she was transferred to the surgical ward and subsequently to a London hospital for further treatment.

Stacey has come a long way since then. She returned to school and went on to receive an advanced degree in Speech and Language Therapy. Having lost the ability to speak after her accident, she wanted to help others in similar situations. She joined Young Hadassah International and spoke about her experience throughout Europe, encouraging others to help support the Medical Center.

Over the years, she maintained her ties with Prof. Sprung and their friendship deepened. Although she returned to Hadassah to visit several times, she was reluctant to meet Prof. Elchalal. “Then, one day six years ago, she called and said she wanted to come and visit me,” he recalls. “That was the beginning of a very close relationship. Seeing her at her wedding was truly amazing.”

"It was extremely emotional to dance at her wedding," Prof. Sprung said, remembering the tragic circumstances that brought them together. Reflecting on the occasion, he noted that “every month or two there is one patient who would not have survived without Hadassah.”

Hadassah is blessed with doctors who become part of their patients’ lives and patients who include us in theirs. It is especially meaningful when we see them return to their lives, healthy and happy. We rejoice with them and in our ability to help bring them to these special moments. Mazal Tov Stacey and Ezra.

****

This week, we observe Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day for those who fell in Israel's wars and in acts of terror, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day. Both are always moving, painful and poignant. As we honor the memory of those who perished and celebrate the 64th anniversary of our country, we at Hadassah will remember the role we have played in war and in peace, in the decades before the founding of the State and the years that have followed. We will think about those we could not help and those who would not have survived without us – and we will rededicate ourselves to our lifesaving mission.

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