A year after she died in a car accident, Danielle Sonnenfeld will be commemorated at the “Danielle Prize – Healing with a Heart” ceremony, at which 16 nurses and doctors will receive prizes in recognition of their caring and devotion.
“The month before she was killed, Danielle came to me and said, ‘Dad, you have to hear about this doctor who has such a big heart. When he enters the room of a patient who has only a few months to live, he still manages to calm everybody down’” said Elio Moti Sonnenfeld, who lost his daughter in a car accident in March 2015.
The Danielle Prize – Healing with a Heart ceremony, in memory of Danielle Sonnenfeld, will be held on Sunday at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. Sixteen outstanding nurses and doctors in the field of pediatric hematology/oncology from hospitals all over the country will be honored this year.
Sonnenfeld, who will be shaking hands with each recipient, is sure that his daughter would be proud.
“The Danielle Prize is intended to recognize the human touch and compassion in medical care and will be awarded to those health professionals who’ve demonstrated exceptional caring toward patients and their families, in addition to their professional expertise and experience,” said Sonnenfeld.
Danielle, who was 20 when she died, was a very special person. She grew up in a religious family, and was an excellent student and a talented writer. Her parents knew she would continue on to college, but first she wanted to volunteer in the pediatric oncology department at Schneider Children’s Medical Center for Israel in Petah Tikva. “It’s no picnic,” her father said. “She was an angel. I’m on the board of trustees of the hospital and when people see me walk by, they say, ‘Hello, Danielle’s dad.’ Whenever a child here would cry, or didn’t want to take his medicine, Danielle would walk in with a big smile that would brighten up the whole room.”
“I had the honor and privilege of spending time with this amazing individual,” said Dr. Gil Gilad, the doctor that Danielle had gushed to her father about. “She had very impressive interpersonal and social skills. Everyone who ever came in contact with her was immediately enchanted by her – children and adults alike. She was an incredibly curious person, she wanted to understand everything.”
Danielle chose to spend her time volunteering and helping people. In addition to volunteering at the hospital, Danielle also spent time with at-risk youth in Acre. “The first thing we taught our children was that first we must give and only then can we take for ourselves.”
Sonnenfeld will never forget the day of his daughter’s fatal accident – March 3, 2015. Danielle was driving two teenagers from the Golan Heights in her car to Schneider Medical Center for treatment.
She returned home to Ra’anana to rest for a few hours and then she was going to go back to the oncology department for her shift. At 8:45 p.m., on her way home, she was hit full force by a jeep and was killed.
The family fell into a deep period of mourning. During the shiva, Danielle’s psychometric exam results arrived – she received a score of 768 out of 800; she had planned on studying medicine.
The Sonnenfeld family decided to perpetuate Danielle’s memory in multiple ways. They created the Danielle Foundation and another 20 different activities in her memory, such as naming a midrasha institute of Jewish studies for women in Samaria after her that prepares girls before entering national service; Lev Danielle – Fertility Institute at Hadassah Ein Kerem; Achuzat Danielle – kindergartens in Ra’anana; and Gar’in Danielle in Acre that supports families of at-risk youth.
There’s also a Danielle Team that was created at Schneider Medical Center that helps young patients who have a poor prognosis, that’s made up of a doctor, two nurses, a social worker, and a psychologist who are available to patients and their families 24/7.
Perhaps most meaningful of these projects the Sonnenfeld family established to honor their daughter’s memory is the Danielle Prize – Healing with a Heart. Sonnenfeld consulted with Rabbi Elimelech Firer in order to decide which type of medical professionals should be the recipients of the award, and Firer recommended starting with the field that was close to Danielle’s heart – pediatric oncology.
The Danielle Prize selection committee is made up of leading public figures. Headed by Joseph Ackerman, other members are Miki Federmann, Rami Ungar, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yiftah Ron-Tal, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Ben-Hanan, Yehoram Gaon and retired Judge Hila Gerstl.
“The committee has experienced a very intense past few months,” Sonnenfeld said. “The families of the patients are the ones who’ve picked the recipients. They’re the ones who’ve taken the time to fill out the questionnaires, and recommended who should receive the prize. We received 880 recommendations for doctors and nurses from all around the country. This is a very impressive number. At first, some people asked, ‘Why are you asking the families to choose – what do they understand?’ But of course they understand about humanity.”
One of this year’s recipients is Dr. Yoram Neumann, head of the Pediatric Oncology Outpatient Clinic at the Edmund and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital at Tel Hashomer, who has been practicing medicine since 1972, and has specialized in pediatric oncology since 1980.
This is not the first prize that Dr. Neumann has been awarded during his career. But this time, he said, it feels different. “The other prizes were awarded by other doctors and administrators. It’s very different getting feedback from parents.”
“This shows that our work is not being taken for granted. If there are people out there who remember that during some of the hardest moments of their lives, they were treated warmly by their doctor, this warms my heart. One of the most important letters I’ve ever received was from a mother whose daughter died. Despite the fact that I couldn’t save her daughter’s life, the mother wrote about how I’d become like a member of her family.”
How are you able to remain so kind after working in oncology for so many years? “If you have a strong support system, it helps. I’m lucky to have a loving wife, wonderful children, and 10 grandchildren. When you have such a strong base, you can do anything.”
Another one of the prize recipients was Dr. Gilad from Schneider, a doctor whom Danielle also held in very high regard. “It’s very heartwarming to receive this award, but for me I’m given the best compliment when a child approaches me and acts naturally,” said Dr. Gilad.
“It’s very common for children to be afraid of anyone wearing a white coat, and it’s important to me to do the maximum for each of my patients. The day I feel that I’m not capable of doing this, I will know I’m not in the right place.”
Sonnenfeld did not have a deep connection with the medical world until he lost his daughter, but now he tries to take the time to go to the funerals of children who did not survive their treatments. “It’s not easy, but I like to fill my day with activities that help others,” he said. “It helps me deal with the pain I still feel at having lost my daughter. My aim is to try to carry out small acts of kindness to bring a little happiness to people during difficult times, just like Danielle wrote when she was 11 years old.”
Translated by Hannah Hochner.