Treating wounded warriors with laser focus

Treating wounded warriors with laser focus

Burn Advocates Network supports Sheba Med Center’s pioneering efforts for IDF soldiers

Sam Davis is at Sheba’s rehab hospital with a wounded soldier playing a Strumstick instrument.
Sam Davis is at Sheba’s rehab hospital with a wounded soldier playing a Strumstick instrument.

Sam Davis of Tenafly was one of 50 participants in a mission to Israel sponsored by the American Friends of Sheba Medical Center. The trip was from November 30 through December 7.

Sheba, Israel’s largest hospital, is well known to Mr. Davis in his capacity as president and founder of Burn Advocates Network. Five years ago, BAN established the I-PEARLS (Israel Pediatric Aesthetic and Reconstructive Laser Surgery) Center of Excellence at Sheba and continues to support its work.

One aspect of Mr. Davis’s visit focused on how BAN can help the I-PEARLS Center, which was geared to treating children’s burn scars, also accommodate soldiers with traumatic wounds and amputations.

“I spent some time there before the mission officially started, researching those needs,” he said. “Since America’s war in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a medical trend toward using lasers on amputees to make the experience more comfortable. Sheba will need new lasers to do this, and we are committed to raising the money and getting them deployed as soon as possible.”

Sheba also is a partner in BAN’s Camp Sababa, founded in 2009 as a summer respite for Israeli children recovering from serious burns.

With the assistance of more than 30 social workers, therapists, musicians, artists, and volunteers from Israeli hospitals, the Jewish and Arab children at the camp are able to enjoy typical camp activities such as team sports, arts and crafts, surfing and swimming, and music, with the aid of adaptive instruments such as Strumstick, a stringed instrument that can be played by children missing fingers or hands.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal Herzog, led the Chanukah candle-lighting ceremony at Sheba Medical Center’s rehabilitation hospital. The soldier on the screen was lighting a menorah in the ICU.

“I met with Professor Amitai Ziv, head of Sheba’s extraordinary rehabilitation hospital, and he was excited about our plan to provide Sheba with a music therapy program,” Mr. Davis said. “We brought 20 Strumsticks, and the soldiers we shared them with immediately got into it. We’re going to make a songbook for them, and hopefully many veterans will find a little relief from their pain and PTSD with music therapy.”

The rehab hospital, whose name, Chozrim L’Chaim, translates to “Returning to Life,” initially had 36 beds and was quickly expanded to 76 beds — especially for injured soldiers — after the October 7 attacks.

Mr. Davis said he was awed by the strength and resilience of wounded warriors at the hospital.

“What they appreciated most was that 45 Americans and five South Africans traveled great distances just to support their recovery,” he said. “Their lives have been shredded, and they were grateful that we took eight days out of our lives to visit them.

“We said loud and clear that we will always be there for them.”

Eden, one of the soldiers who spoke to the group, was shot 12 times on October 7 and continued to fight as long as she could. “There she was onstage, walking with crutches, representing the finest of the IDF,” Mr. Davis said. “There are so many examples of women who became heroes that day.”

Sam Davis is with Camp Sababa former camper and counselor Shalev, left, and a wounded soldier now under treatment at Sheba Medical Center. Shalev was severely burned by a terrorist’s Molotov cocktail when she was 2 years old.

The mission participants also had unforgettable experiences outside the hospital.

Following a briefing by Col. Jonathan Conricus, the IDF spokesman, they put on flak jackets and helmets and entered Kfar Aza, one of the Gaza border communities that was savagely attacked by Hamas terrorists on October 7. At least 60 residents were killed and as many as 19 abducted that day.

“It was an opportunity to see the frontlines of terrorism and be able to bear witness personally to the brutality and barbarism,” Mr. Davis said.

“The place was utterly savaged. Going into these homes was like visiting 60 separate crime scenes. I can’t get it out of my mind. This is a place where people were slaughtered — unarmed families in their homes. There were hundreds of bullet holes in the walls. It’s indescribable.

“We saw how fragile the border defenses are. The kibbutz fence was knocked down by one military vehicle, and 300 terrorists entered. One of the most prevalent injuries was upper extremity damage because when the families fled to their safe rooms, many of the adults used their arms to hold the doors closed and the terrorists shot Kalashnikov bullets through the doors.”

Kfar Aza, he learned, was a very liberal kibbutz whose residents were active in peace efforts regarding neighboring Gazans. Many of them were shocked to be attacked by hundreds of those neighbors from over the border.

Sam Davis surveys the devastation at Kfar Aza.

Mr. Davis said that American Jews, too, “don’t imagine the world being as perilous for Jews as it really is, and this is a wakeup call to the ongoing threats in Israel and beyond. We can now speak up with more authority now that we have seen it.”

After touring the destroyed kibbutz, mission participants gathered to recite the mourner’s kaddish for the murdered residents.

“There will come a time when we will all participate in rebuilding this kibbutz, because to not rebuild it would be to hand a victory to Hamas,” he said. “This was a theme I saw repeated over and over again by wounded soldiers, even those who clearly were not going to be going back to the frontlines although they wanted to.”

Mr. Davis, a partner in the Teaneck law firm Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, said that seeing what happened in Kfar Aza “reinforced all our feelings regarding protecting Israel and making sure this fight against global terrorism, whose epicenter is in Israel, must be won.”

The trip coincided with Chanukah. One night, President Isaac Herzog and other officials came to Sheba to join the mission participants, hospital staff, and patients for the candle lighting in the lobby of the rehab hospital.

“A soldier recovering in the ICU was shown on a large screen lighting the menorah at his bedside, and everyone then sang Maoz Tzur,” Mr. Davis said. “Particularly inspiring was that this room was filled with about 150 wounded warriors, many of them in wheelchairs, and they all got up to sing ‘Hatikvah,’” Israel’s national anthem.

Eden, a soldier who was shot 12 times on October 7, is onstage at the Chanukah ceremony at the Sheba rehab hospital.

The group also sponsored a barbecue for 250 soldiers and their families at the medical center.

“A lot of department heads came to the barbecue and interacted with their patients in a nonclinical setting,” he continued. “There are not a lot of moments of relaxation to be had in the hospital, and this was like a mini vacation for them.” The medical staff did not show any strain despite caring for “hundreds of soldiers with terrible injuries,” he added.

Mr. Davis said that Sheba was operating in a state of “normalcy with an asterisk: the doctors were on mission, notwithstanding that there were several Code Red and missile attacks while we were there, and helicopters landing with more seriously wounded patients. It was very reassuring that this important institution could stay on track even with caseloads doubled and tripled.”

And in spite of the war, he said, the medical center’s global humanitarian work and healthcare technology innovation center have continued.

“My God, it takes a lot of strength to go from treating somebody who’s lost a limb or two to planning a program that will lead the way into medicine in the next century,” he said.

Dr. Josef Haik, whom Mr. Davis has known for years as head of the National Intensive Care Burn Unit and Sheba’s chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery, told Mr. Davis that Sheba is working with prominent Israeli companies to research and develop the next generation of medical lasers.

Mr. Davis left Dr. Haik with a promise that BAN will make sure “you have the best lasers, the newest lasers, the array of lasers that you need to give the best results to your patients. We will be here for you.”

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