PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN and his wife, Nechama (second from left), host (from left) Vered Shirazi, Adnan Haj Yihye and Michal Vitori yesterday during an event at the President’s Residence encouraging organ donations..
(photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
The most difficult period for any family is when it has to decide whether to donate the organs of a loved one, President Reuven Rivlin said on Thursday as he addressed some 250 family members of organ donors and recipients who came to the President’s Residence.
The gathering was organized by Adi, Israel’s National Transplant and Organ Donation Center.
While empathetic to the pain of loss, Rivlin and other speakers noted the importance of making a decision that could enable at least one other person to live.
The first heart transplant in Israel took place in 1968, said Rivlin. The operation was successful but the recipient died after a few days due to infection.
Almost fifty years have passed since then, he said, and the world, including Israel, has made tremendous progress in the field of organ transplants.
Just over the past year, 86 families in Israel agreed to donate organs of deceased loved ones, and these organs were transplanted into the bodies of 241 individuals who were suddenly given a new lease on life.
Looking out at the sea of faces in front of him, Rivlin noted that they came from all sectors of society and from all over the country – Jews and Arabs, religious and secular and politically right and left. A Jew received the heart of an Arab, said Rivlin, and an Arab was breathing with Jewish lungs.
Acknowledging that there had initially been a certain reluctance on the part of Israelis to sign up with Adi, Rivlin said that there are currently 901,000 people carrying Adi cards.
Moshe Bar Simon, the director- general of the Health Ministry, said that the greatest demonstration of solidarity with one’s fellow being, “one that makes us all one family” is to donate organs that will enable others to live. What is a tragedy for one family can bring salvation to another, he said.
Adi Chairman, Prof. Rafi Biar said that almost every organ donation saves three, four or even more lives, as different organs from one source are able to be transplanted into different people.
Recipients are given minimal notice that an organ is available, he said. They have to be constantly on call, and have to be ready to leave a work situation or a family celebration in an instant.
A video was screened showing Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi and former Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau saying that there is no halachic prohibition on transplants. “Whoever has the possibility to save a life should do so and will receive a great reward in the world to come,” he said.
Guest of the event Vered Shirazi said that she twice received the gift of life – the first time when she was born and the second time three years ago when she underwent a heart transplant.
She had suffered illnesses for most of her life, almost dying while giving birth to her two children who in their embryonic form had been at risk due to their mother’s eroding state of health. Shirazi had been told that she would have to wait between five and ten years for a heart transplant, until, suddenly there was a call from the hospital on the eve of Rosh Hashana asking her to be there before midnight.
When she woke up following the transplant, it was the first time that her lungs were filled with air and she could actually breathe properly.
Michal Vitori told how her 16-year-old son Gilad, a promising athlete suffered a heart attack during a sports exercise at school and collapsed.
Attempts to resuscitate him failed and he was rushed to hospital. She and her husband were told that there was no hope.
She immediately realized that she wanted to donate his organs. “Everything that ceased for us became a new beginning for someone else,” she said.
Gilad’s organs saved the lives of six other people and two young people regained their sight because of his corneas.
The pain of loss doesn’t go away, she said. “Time is not a healer,” even though there is comfort in knowing that Gilad lives on in others.
Adnan Haj Yihye, the brother of 63-year-old Ashya who died from a brain hemorrhage, told of the hesitation on the part of her siblings. “We are a traditional, observant family,” he said. They decided to seek the advice of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a great Egyptian Muslim scholar, who told them that it was important to unconditionally donate organs to save a life without regard for religion or race.
“If we give the gifts of God to others, there is no higher moral calling,” said Haj Yihye, who asked Rivlin to do more to promote organ donations.