A wedding in times of pandemic

While coping daily with the challenges of COVID-19, the Reuth Rehabilitation Hospital was also able to grant an unusual request: Allowing a patient and his fiancé to hold an intimate wedding ceremony, attended by the ward’s staff and under the directives of the Ministry of Health.

Shmuel Garcia, 53, who suffered a major stroke about a year ago, married Bat El, his partner of several years, one day before his release from hospital. The wedding took place in a very special venue: on the roof of Reuth Rehabilitation Hospital, used as a playground by children from the pediatric ward. The playground, inaugurated just a few months ago, was established with the support of Daniel Arison Dorsman of the Ted Arison Family Foundation.

Shmuel, who lives in Tiberias, suffered a stroke in September 2019, while working on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  He was taken to the Poriya Medical Center, suffering from convulsions, paralyzed limbs, speech impediments and swallowing difficulties. Due to the severity and complexity of his condition, he required ventilation. Last March, finally stable and weaned from the ventilator, he was transferred to Reuth’s Head Injuries Rehabilitation Ward

Born in Colombia, Shmuel immigrated to the US at the age of 14. For ten years he served in the US Marines, traveling to dozens of countries as a VIP close protection officer. 13 years ago he converted to Judaism and made aliya. In Israel he met Bat El, also a recently converted Jew from Colombia, and the two fell in love. For both of them, this is their second marriage.

The severe stroke completely changed the course of Shmuel’s life. During his five months of rehabilitation at Reuth, Bat El remained at his side, taking an active part in the process.

Since both Shmuel and Bat El observe the Jewish traditions, Bat El asked the staff whether they could get married at the hospital, before moving in together. All of Shmuel’s therapists participated in the exciting wedding preparations: The occupational therapist worked with Shmuel on writing a speech by improving his manual functions; the physiotherapist helped him practice breaking the glass under the huppah; and the team at the therapeutic garden helped him pick flowers for both the bridal bouquet and a wreath for his daughter.

During the moving wedding ceremony, the occupational therapist read out the speech that she and Shmuel had prepared together. Held under the strict coronavirus directives of the Ministry of Health, the ceremony was attended by only a handful of Reuth personnel, the couple’s children and a friend who relayed the ceremony live through Zoom to friends and family in Colombia, Mexico and the US.

Dr. Frida Shemesh, Director of the Head Injuries Rehabilitation Ward at Reuth:  “At the Head Injuries Rehabilitation Ward we treat people with different levels of brain damage. Most patients have considerable difficulties in communication, daily functions and mobility.  Families play an important part in the rehabilitation process, receiving full professional support from everyone in our team. Shmuel came to us  suffering from the locked-in syndrome: full paralysis of all muscles, leaving the patient with only eye movements, and in some cases head nodding as well. The most common cause for this syndrome is stroke, and rehabilitation is a great challenge. Happily, some of Shmuel’s motor functions have improved: He can now move his right hand, swallow, get around in a wheelchair and communicate. His intensive rehabilitation was multidisciplinary, including rehabilitation medicine, nursing, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, supervised nutrition and continual support for the family.

Shmuel’s story proves that even in severe and complex cases, a well-planned rehabilitation process can enable the patient to go back to his home environment, to his family and friends. We are happy that even in these trying times of pandemic, we were able to provide a full response to Shmuel and Bat El, his wonderful new wife, who supported him throughout his rehabilitation, and is now going back home with him. We wish them both lots of love, health and happiness.”


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