by Stephen Bryen
A few years ago I had the privilege to meet with Dr. Rafi Beyar, Director, Rambam*** Health Care Campus and Professor, Biomedical Engineering and Medicine, at the Technion. The Rambam Health Care Campus and the Technion are both located in Israel. The meeting, arranged by my wife, included Hal Koster, the head of the Aleethia Foundation, a group working with wounded soldiers in the United States. The topic of conversation was how to “compare notes” between what the Israelis have done dealing with traumatic injuries caused by war and what has been done in the United States.
For more than ten years my wife Shoshana and I have been working with Hal Koster who today heads the Aleethia Foundation. We first met Hal through a friend of ours, Maarten Singelenbeg. Maarten has been one of the leading marketing experts in the food trade in Washington DC. One of his clients was a restaurant located a few blocks from the White House, called Fran O’Brien’s. Fran O’Brien was a Cleveland Browns and later a Washington Redskins football player (he was an offensive tackle). His son Marty and Hal Koster operated the restaurant. They were friends with “the milkshake man,” ‘aka’ Jim Meyer, who was visiting wounded soldiers at the then Walter Reed Army Medical Center, located further up 16th street. Jim would bring trays of frozen milkshakes to the wounded guys. Inevitably they would ask why he was doing that, and what he knew about war and the trauma of being wounded and losing limbs. Meyer, in reply, would lift both his pant legs showing two prosthetic limbs. Jim was wounded in Vietnam. He realized that you can recover and live a full and complete life****, but you need help and care, and most of all a feeling that you still have an important role to play in the world. It was this idea that got Jim to speak to Hal and Marty. They concocted the notion that they would bring the wounded soldiers, somehow and someway, to their restaurant and give them an amazing evening away from the hospital wards and therapy rooms. A steak dinner. A beer or two. Maybe some young ladies?
That is what got the Fran O’Brien dinners going. What Maarten learned on his visit to Hal and Marty, that it was hard for them to keep their restaurant profitable and support 30 or more free guests every Friday night. So my wife and I, and later many others, started raising money because we saw the huge benefit of the dinners.
It was attending many of the Friday night dinners that I got to see some of the medical miracles performed to help our guys (and later a few military gals too) return to a normal life. The caregivers were extraordinary, and the new technology, at least what I could see of it, was amazing. Even more amazing was what we saw from the wounded warriors themselves: grit, determination, huge spirit, and a desire to return to their units as soon as they could (the Army, Marines or other service permitting). The dinners also attracted leaders from the Pentagon such as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, and the Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and his successor Gordon England. Not only did these high level visits raise spirits and provide a connection “right to the top,” but it paved the way for the Pentagon to start employing wounded warriors and encouraging others to do the same.
Dr. Beyar and Hal had a lot to talk about the day we met for lunch.
Rambam does for Israeli soldiers and for others affected by war what Walter Reed Army Medical Center (now co-located at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center) does for our troops.
Today the Jerusalem Post and other news outlets feature a compelling story about a Syrian child with a severe head injury being rushed across the border with his 11 year old brother and his father. His mother and sister were killed in the same blast that wounded the two boys. Crossing the border and on the road to Rambam, the 11 year old also passed. This left the father and his barely surviving son. The boy was comatose, and his father was asking the hospital to do whatever they could to save his son, telling them “he is all I have left.”
The boy required emergency brain surgery to relieve pressure on the brain caused by swelling. Without the surgery he could not live. The extensive surgery was carried out, the boy was kept in an induced coma, and then, as he recovered, more surgery was needed to replace the parts of the skull that were removed and then to start therapy, including physical recovery and speech retraining. Some weeks after he entered the hospital, he walked out with his father.
The story is very moving, very sincere, but not unusual. For decades Israeli hospitals have been open to treat the dire medical needs of their neighbors. Israel has been terrific in emergency medicine and trauma care. That is why, whether it is the Philippines or Haiti, the Israeli teams have performed so well in saving lives and restoring hope.
Can we take a lesson from this? Dr. Beyar and Hal Koster understood immediately what they have in common. The mission.
***”Rambam” is an acronym of the Hebrew name of Moses Maimonides (1135-1204). Rambam was a rabbi, a philosopher and a renowned physician.
****Jim Meyer holds an “Alive Day” every year, a well attended event where funds raised go to support wounded soldiers.