Eli Beer, 46, President and Founder of United Hatzalah, was raising funds in Miami last March, when the coronavirus pandemic broke out all over the world. After traveling to several states in America, Beer attended a reading of the Book of Esther at a Miami synagogue on Purim. The next day he began to suffer from symptoms that eventually turned out to be COVID-19.
Beer was hospitalized in an isolated intensive care unit at a medical center in Miami. When his condition deteriorated rapidly, the staff had no choice but to anesthetize him and put him on a ventilator.
“The moment the doctors told me that I would be anesthetized, I remembered the hundreds of patients I had read about, who had been respirated and then died,” recalls Beer. “I thought the end was near. I felt sad and angry and frightened, and wanted to say goodbye to my beloved wife and five children. I asked them to continue doing good in the world, to carry on in the spirit in which I had raised them. I asked them to pray for my life.”
Only a month later, when his condition became stable, the hospital decided to wean him from ventilation. Beer woke up into a nightmare. “I couldn’t figure out who these people were, standing around me in masks and spacesuits, so I can’t see their faces.”
Returning to Israel last April, he was met at the airport by his family, and the reunion received a great deal of emotional media coverage. Beer had to be carried off the airplane, extremely weak and exhausted.
Shortly after his return, Beer began an intensive rehabilitation process at Reuth’s Day Rehabilitation Center.
COVID-19 leaves severe patients who had required prolonged respiration under anesthesia, with physical damage that necessitates comprehensive rehabilitation, to help them regain their functional independence and quality of life. Damage is extensive: lower cardiopulmonary functions, shortness of breath, loss of up to 30% of the muscle mass and considerable weakness, alongside emotional implications resembling post-trauma – all of which require professional care.
Prof. Rafi Heruti, Head of the Rehabilitation Division at Reuth Rehabilitation Hospital: “The viral infection, combined with prolonged ventilation, leads to multisystemic damage and considerably reduced functions. When Eli came to us he was suffering from nutritional deficiencies resulting from dramatic weight loss, weakened muscles and low cardiopulmonary endurance. His comprehensive multidisciplinary rehabilitation emphasized various functional aspects: physiotherapy for strengthening his muscles and improving movement, nutrition, occupational therapy, improving his memory and cardiopulmonary endurance, and emotional support that helped him process his anxiety and regain his self-confidence.
“People who recover from COVID-19 have experienced trauma. All at once, their lives had been turned around. They had been totally cut off from their normal lives and surroundings, and many had been on the brink of death. Emotional therapy given by rehabilitation psychologists and social workers is essential. We are very happy about Eli’s successful rehabilitation.”
Right before leaving Reuth, Eli Beer summed up his experiences: “At Reuth I received wonderful care. I walk out of the hospital both strong in body and empowered in spirit, returning to my normal life. I can hardly believe it. I’m going back to my family in Jerusalem.”