Treating trauma in Ashdod

Assuta Ashdod is the only hospital in Israel which has emergency medicine doctors on staff 24 hours a day.

Assuta Ashdod’s Emergency Department is considered one of the best in the country (photo credit: ODED KARNI)
Assuta Ashdod’s Emergency Department is considered one of the best in the country
(photo credit: ODED KARNI)

On a sunny winter afternoon, the atmosphere at Samson Assuta Ashdod Hospital is outwardly calm. Inside the lobby, a visitor plays a tune on a large white piano, and the nearby hospital restaurant is filled with lunchtime diners. Yet, behind the placid exterior is one of Israel’s busiest trauma centers. Dr. Debra West, head of the hospital’s Helmsley Charitable Trust Emergency Department, says, “Since we opened in 2017, we’re getting more trauma patients, and many more multi-trauma cases, in which multiple organs are involved, than we expected.”
West explains that “the protocol of trauma is if you have a really serious case, you should go to the nearest hospital.” Magen David Adom medics, she adds, frequently bring serious trauma cases to Assuta because of its proximity to the scene of the accident. Because the complicated trauma cases arrive so quickly, many times the emergency room doctors have less than five minutes to prepare for their arrival.
“As soon as we get a call, the team collects, goes into the trauma room and sets everything up. You have to get yourself ready, get your staff ready, get the room ready, and get your interfaces ready – all before the patient lands,” West says, lauding the teamwork among the doctors. “The most important thing is the cooperation between the surgical, orthopedics, trauma, and anesthesiology units. Everyone is listening to each other.”
Assuta Ashdod is the only hospital in Israel which has emergency medicine doctors on staff 24 hours a day. Emergency medicine physicians are qualified in time-critical care – including trauma, surgical, orthopedic and internal medicine emergencies. Dr. West says emergency medicine doctors are the first to examine trauma patients and remain in charge until a trauma specialist arrives. In cases of major trauma, that individual will frequently be Dr. Itay Zoarets, the hospital’s trauma service director. Zoarets studied at the Technion, served in the IDF for 15 years, and was the commander of the army field hospital in the Golan Heights that treated Syrian victims of that country’s civil war.
Assuta Ashdod has 1,800 trauma admissions annually, and between 5 and 6 trauma admissions per 24 hours. Zoarets recalls a recent case in which a 17-year old motorcyclist was involved in a collision. The teen was brought to the emergency room in severe respiratory distress. He was intubated, and after undergoing treatment, eventually recovered. Assuta Ashdod is the only hospital in the area, and had the youth been taken to a more distant hospital, he would have likely sustained a serious brain injury.
At Assuta, says West, medical expertise is not enough. “Not only is patient care critical, but care and concern for the family is equally important. The family is a critical component. In this day and age, people don’t want the doctor to be distant – they want to know what is going on.”
Zoarets relates that effective communication needs to be extended to the community. “We see ourselves as a community hospital,” he says. In an effort to increase safety, Zoarets and his staff initiated a program called ‘Choose Life,’ in which 11th and 12th grade students spend a day visiting Assuta’s emergency room and trauma department. Dr. Zoarets shows how severely injured patients are treated, demonstrates different treatment methods, and invites questions.
At the program’s conclusion, Matan Friedman, an Ashdod resident and former medic who was severely injured when a car collided with his Magen David Adom motorcycle last year and was treated at Assuta, addresses the students about safety issues. Since his accident, Friedman has made steady progress, and explains that had he not been wearing his helmet, his situation would have been far more critical. Dr. Amir Herman, head of orthopedic trauma, was in charge of Friedman’s care, and explains, “Telling his story to teenagers is now part of Matan’s mission.” Friedman encourages the students to appreciate life and take appropriate safety precautions when driving or riding.
Sitting in his office that adjoins the emergency room, Zoarets gestures at a nearby couch, and smiles. “I have a bed here. I practically live at the hospital. When you come in to operate on a patient in trauma, operating with all the chaos – if you succeed, it’s a miracle.”
Returning to the case of the 17-year-old motorcyclist, he says, “After the boy was discharged, the father hugged me, and kissed me. That feeling that you get is priceless.”
Serious trauma cases continue to come to Assuta daily. Yet, despite the short preparation time, the volume of cases, and the difficulties involved, the trauma and emergency doctors continue not only to do their best but to hope for the best. As Zoarets says, “In our line of work, one has to be optimistic. You can’t give up on anything.”For more information, call 1-800-5767881 (US toll-free) or 972-2-5315614 (elsewhere). This article was written in cooperation with Assuta Ashdod.