(photo credit: MDA [file])
A 24-year-old Jerusalem man with Down syndrome was persuaded to use uncomfortable equipment that keeps him breathing throughout the night by being made an honorary medic for the United Hatzalah organization and thus realizing a longtime dream.
During an emotional ceremony last week attended by family and friends, Michael Boaz received his official United Hatzalah badge, vest and first-aid kit, and will now be able to work at the voluntary lifesaving organization's national headquarters by helping out in the office and storage rooms.
Life hasn't been simple for Michael, but his parents always wanted the best for him. They found that Siach Sod, a haredi special education and residential facility for the mentally disabled, was the most appropriate framework for maximizing his potential.
But as a youth, he was always excited to watch United Hatzalah medics racing by on their "ambucycles" - lights flashing and sirens blaring as they rode to another lifesaving call from their center on Rehov Yirmiyahu, a few steps away from Magen David Adom.
Michael would often stop in at Hatzalah as he walked with a friend to or from Siach Sod. Sometimes he would ask for a sticker or stay for a chat. On rare occasions, he was invited into the Moskowitz Command Center to check out the action via the computer screens and communication gear.
As with many people with Down syndrome, Michael has congenital respiratory difficulties. Last month, during a particularly serious attack, he was rushed to the emergency room and admitted to the pulmonary critical care unit. Doctors were extremely pessimistic about his ability to come through, but he did.
However, when his doctors told him he had to wear the unwieldy mask used with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to remain breathing while asleep, Michael found it too uncomfortable and refused to go along. Sometimes, he would take off the mask immediately after the Siach Sod staff left the room.
Fearful of the dire consequences of non-compliance with the pulmonary specialist's stern warnings, Siach Sod's David Reicher wracked his brain to come up with a plan to help Michael wear the mask. After clearing the idea with Eli Pollack, the volunteer coordinator for United Hatzalah, Reicher made Michael an offer he could not refuse. "If you become a United Hatzalah medic, would you wear the oxygen mask?" Michael immediately responded with an enthusiastic "yes!"
At Wednesday's ceremony, surrounded by loved ones, as well as by ambucycles, an ambutractor and other emergency vehicles, Michael was clearly overjoyed. His parents, who were visibly moved, said: "Everyone has the ability to contribute in their own special way. We appreciate United Hatzalah's commitment to people with special needs."