Helping to grant patients’ wishes

Yotam Cohen, 7, with MDA paramedic Yonat Daskal-Dagan.

IT could be a trip to the beach, or catching up with family, or a visit to a favourite cafe. All these sound like the makings of a pleasant weekend – but what if they were the highlight of your last good day alive?

Israelis Yonat Daskal-Dagan and Itai Orion are part of a special corps of paramedics with Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel’s national ambulance service, who are part of the Wish Ambulance program, tasked with accompanying terminally ill and immobile patients on a fun day of their choosing, as Orion put it, “to celebrate the normal”.

With hundreds of wish trips each year, MDA Australia has committed itself to raising $500,000, which would buy a much-needed second Wish ambulance, a custom-fitted unit that differs from standard ambulances, said MDA chair Glynis Lipson, after the June 13 launch of its Beyond a Wish campaign. 

At MDA Australia’s Beyond a Wish launch, from left, paramedic Yonat Daskal-Dagan, Elisheva Cohen, Ravit Cohen and paramedic Itai Orion.

“In a best case scenario, we’re just chauffeurs,” reflected Orion, “but we’re on hand if patients need extra attention during the day of the outing.”

“Some paramedics volunteering for the program leave soon because they can’t deal with it emotionally,” noted Daskal-Dagan. “For me it was also too much at first, but when I see the smiles of the patient and their family, it makes it worthwhile. Even so, I sometimes find it hard to sleep at night.”

The paramedic duo are in Australia, along with Ravit and Elisheva Cohen, mother and sister of Yotam Cohen, 7, who was diagnosed with cancer when he was three, and needed a bone-marrow transplant. 

During his treatment, when things looked bleak, Yotam would look out the window of the oncology department at Ein Kerem Hospital at the MDA helipad and dream of flying in a chopper.

So the MDA Wish Ambulance team took him to the helipad and gave him a lesson on operating a helicopter, fitting him with his own headset. Said Daskal-Dagan, “When they landed, the expression on Yotam’s face was priceless. He jumped into his mother Ravit’s arms, totally ecstatic. His wish had been granted.”

On returning to hospital, Yotam’s blood count was sufficient to receive the bone-marrow transplant and he is now in remission.

The visiting paramedics also spoke of a day they spent with the Locker brothers, Shlomo, 78, and Avraham, 85, both in ill health. They had not seen each other for more than two years and wanted to spend time together over a meal of hummus. MDA granted their wish. Said Orion, “They were in bad pain but as the day progressed, their mood picked up. This was a good day.”

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