Israel | Philanthropy | Post-Its

Tucson Doctors Lend Their Skills, Support to Israel

The American Healthcare Professionals and Friends for Medicine in Israel delegation at Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, Israel, in February 2024. Tucsonan David Siegel, M.D. (with beard and glasses) is in the second row, center, behind the flag. (Photo courtesy David Siegel)

“Resilience” is the word Dr. David Siegel, a Tucson neurologist, heard most often from Israelis during a solidarity mission last month with the American Healthcare Professionals and Friends for Medicine in Israel, or APF.

“The absolute resilience of the many Israelis I had the privilege to talk and interact with was amazing. Our guide at Be’eri noted their pre-massacre population at 1,200 and they plan to rebuild at 1,600,” says Siegel, referring to Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the sites of the Oct. 7 Hamas invasion. Terrorists killed close to 100 kibbutz residents on Oct. 7 and took 30 others hostage.

The APF group was in Israel to bear witness, says Siegel, who explains that the group’s original name, American Physicians Fellowship, was changed to reflect its members’ diverse occupations. The 42 members of the February delegation came from across the U.S. and Canada and included nurse practitioners, paramedics, emergency management specialists who are not healthcare professionals, podiatrists, and cardiologists, Siegel says.

Dr. Raquel Gibly, an emergency room specialist from Tucson, also visited Israel in February. After Oct. 7, she registered with several Israeli organizations seeking medical volunteers and was contacted by Milu-EM, a partnership between the Israeli Association of Emergency Medicine and emergency medicine physicians from around the world.

Gibly volunteered at Poriya Medical Center near Tiberias, sharing her expertise. Currently an attending physician at the Tucson VA Medical Center, Gibly was the medical director and chair of the emergency medicine department at Tucson’s Carondelet St. Joseph’s Hospital for 15 years.

At Poriya, “they didn’t want me to see patients as much as they wanted me to teach,” she says. “The key is to be open-minded.”

Gibly did see patients with Poriya’s medical residents. She focused on teaching the doctors ultrasound, diagnosis, and other clinical skills.

No wounded soldiers were brought into the Poriya ER while Gibly was there. But “there was plenty of action — warnings and missiles. People were hurt, but not where I was,” she says.

Gibly, who is fluent in Hebrew, also taught disaster management classes for physicians and laypeople at a couple of other locations in Israel.

Tucsonan Raquel Gibly, M.D., outside the emergency room at Poriya Medical Center near Tiberias, Israel, in February 2024. (Photo courtesy Raquel Gibly)

She taught average citizens “how to triage people, how to take care of walking wounded,” she says, explaining that Israelis are acutely aware of the potential for another mass casualty event and they need to have some idea of what to do, including how to stop bleeds and tie tourniquets.

The APF participants visited several hospitals, including Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan. In Sheba’s rehab unit, they met Yoam, a young IDF paramedic who’d had his left leg amputated below the knee after sustaining devastating injuries in November. Yoam, who also had a lacerated artery in his neck, owes his survival to soldiers trained in basic first aid and a trauma surgeon who inserted a chest tube in the field to drain fluid before he was transported to the hospital by vehicle and helicopter.

Yoam, who recalls passing out in the vehicle —  “and gratefully so,” says Siegel — plans to return to the military once he is discharged from the hospital.

Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva was closest to the Oct. 7 attacks. “If you can imagine an emergency room taking major trauma, one a minute, two a minute, for two hours straight,” Siegel says.

Afterward, Soroka emphasized taking care of the providers to prevent secondary PTSD. “They have systems in place to identify staff who might need a little more help than they’re asking for,” he says.

Siegel was also impressed by ALYN Hospital – Pediatric Rehabilitation Center in Jerusalem, which pioneered the use of hydrotherapy for ventilator-dependent pediatric patients.

“It’s less for therapy of the body than therapy of the mind, to let these kids know they can participate in society,” he says.

Dr. Eliezer Be’eri, director of ALYN Hospital – Pediatric Rehabilitation Center in Jerusalem, speaks about the mental and physical benefits of the hospital’s hydrotherapy program.

Dr. Eliezer Be’eri, the director of ALYN, also spoke of how the war affected its diverse staff, which includes Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs. and some Palestinian Arab professionals. On Oct. 8, a therapist asked a mother to play a video that would make her toddler smile. The mother then played a Hamas video that sent the therapist running from the room in tears. Another therapist, an Arab from East Jerusalem, was beaten twice by police while on his way to work at the hospital. He continued to report for work.

At Kibbutz Be’eri, the APF group was permitted to enter only one building, a dental clinic that was attacked during the hours-long siege. After many of the staff were killed or wounded, the remainder decided to surrender.

“There was a young paramedic woman who worked there, 22 years old. She walked out with her hands in the air, I think with a white flag, and she was immediately shot in the leg and went down, and was immediately murdered,” Siegel says. “It’s an image I can’t get out of my mind.”

Along with Kibbutz Be’eri, the APF delegation toured the Nova Music Festival site, where, in addition to photos of the murdered and kidnapped, they viewed the “cemetery for cars” that were abandoned and damaged on Oct. 7. Siegel notes that Cohanim in the group, descendants of the Jewish priestly class, were forbidden to enter because of blood remaining in the cars.

In Ramat Gan, a social worker detailed how the city, which received funding to house 300 displaced citizens, ultimately took in 3,000.

The APF group spent time there with a young woman who was evacuated from Sderot. ”She wants to go home; she’s afraid to go home,” says Siegel. “She wants eventually to get married, to have children, but she says to herself, ‘Do I want to raise my kids here?’”

After the mission, Siegel, who is friends with Gibly, spent Shabbat in Israel with her and other members of the Gibly family, which was a welcome respite.

Although he is not fluent in Hebrew, Siegel is exploring options to return to Israel as a medical volunteer. And he notes that APF is also planning another solidarity mission in July.