Seventeen years ago during the Second Lebanon War (2006), Capt. Noam Gershony’s life was saved by a Magen David Adom (MDA) paramedic who pulled him from the wreckage after his helicopter crashed and gave him critical medical treatment. Unconscious for days, Gershony – a pilot who was disabled in the crash and became a Paralympics champion – unfortunately never met the man who rescued him.Gershony’s co-pilot, Major Ron Kochba, didn’t survive the crash.But now, Gershony has finally been reunited with the MDA paramedic who pulled him out. In an emotional reunion before 850 American visitors on a Chabad Jewish Learning Institute mission, Gershony met senior paramedic Shimon Eliyah Abitbul. The two embraced on what had been a reunion nearly two decades in the making.
The First Link in the Chain of Survival from AFMDA on Vimeo.“I previously met Noam in a way, but he never met me,” said Abitbul, now deputy director of MDA’s Yarden region, noting that when he visited Gershony in the hospital in 2006 and spoke with Gershony’s mother, the injured pilot had not yet regained consciousness.“It was chaos in the Kiryat Shmona area during the war,” Abitbul recalled, “with constant rocket attacks from Hezbollah. All our ambulances were on call at the time, but when I saw Noam’s helicopter collide with another helicopter and crash, I took off in my car to the crash site to see if there were survivors and initiate treatment. As soon as we discovered there were signs of life – a pulse, breathing – we cut Noam’s seat belt, pulled him from the wreckage and secured him to a stretcher,” Abitbul said.
Gershony regained the ability to walk with assistance and resumed participating in sports, using specially designed skis and other devices to resume his prior active life. In 2012, he won the gold medal at the London Paralympics in wheelchair tennis, a moment watched by millions as the Israeli flag was raised to Israel’s national anthem.“Meeting Noam was a very emotional experience for me,” Abitbul said. “When I first treated him, he was near death. To see him all these years later – healthy, vibrant and leading a happy and productive life – is so uplifting.”The joy of meeting was shared by Gershony. “It was amazing, exciting and very special for me to meet Shimon,” the former pilot said. “He was there when I was minutes away from dying and thanks to his determination and passion for saving lives, I’m here today. I’m grateful to him for that.”Aryeh Myers, a senior MDA paramedic who presented Gershony with MDA’s Resilience Award at the dinner, said “In a profession in which we lose a certain percent of our patients, having a patient who fought back against all the odds to lead a full life is an inspiration to us and validates our whole reason for wanting to be paramedics.“Having Noam and Shimon finally meet properly closed the loop – I think for Shimon as much as for Noam.”