Defiant trans-Atlantic dash fulfills organ donor’s wish
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Defiant trans-Atlantic dash fulfills organ donor’s wish

Former nurse declared brain-dead in New Jersey rushed back to Israel so that she can give others a new lease on life

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Sima Avishar is wheeled onto the plane en route to Israel (photo credit: vitalone.org)
Sima Avishar is wheeled onto the plane en route to Israel (photo credit: vitalone.org)

In a desperate race against time that included battles with bureaucracy, an airline strike, and mortality itself, a woman who was declared brain-dead in New Jersey was flown back to Israel in order to have her organs donated to others.

Tel Aviv resident Sima Avishar, 64, arrived in America two weeks ago to visit a friend. Last week she collapsed, apparently from a brain seizure brought on by a previously undetected congenital defect in her blood vessels, and staff at the New Jersey hospital notified her family back in Israel. Her children Miya and Sharon flew out that night, but when they arrived, staff at the hospital told them that, since their mother was declared brain-dead, they were going to turn off the ventilator machines.

“The doctor and social worker that we met explained that they intended to cut her off [the machines] in accordance with American law, and even hinted that she is taking up bed space in the hospital,” Sharon Avishar recalled.

However, the siblings knew that their mother, a former nurse, had for years carried an organ-donor card and they now saw it as their duty to fulfill her wishes. Her unique blood group made her suitable for receivers who are hard to match, adding even greater significance to their goal.

Convincing the hospital to wait just a little while longer until a medical team could fly from Israel to America to collect their mother was a challenge that required the involvement of the Foreign Ministry, the Israeli consulate in New York, and the insurance company. Yet even as the hospital finally acceded to their request and the medical team were ready to fly out, fate threw up a further stumbling block in the form of a strike by Israeli airlines.

Waiting for the strike to finish was not an option as the drugs used to keep Avishar’s body in stable condition would quickly begin to render her organs unusable. In desperation, the family appealed to the El Al workers’ committee, which agreed to let the medical team travel on Saturday night, despite the strike. Yet even then, the mission was nearly aborted as doctors feared Avishar’s body would not survive the flight in stable condition. After another three-hour delay, her condition was stabilized and the flight left.

Landing back in Ben Gurion Airport, Avishar’s body was taken to Ichilov hospital, where she had worked as a nurse until her retirement.

Preparations were made and her organs were transplanted on Tuesday night, hours after she was finally laid to rest.

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