ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 138

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'Knowing we have made life possible for others strengthens us'

Grieving their fallen soldier sons, families donate their organs, spread life

These are the stories of 5 regular and reserve IDF soldiers whose hearts, lungs, livers, and kidneys have given 25 people a new lease on life, during dark days of war

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

  • Lt. Roi Nahari was killed in action against terrorists at Kfar Aza on October 9, 2023. His family donated his organs. (Courtesy)
    Lt. Roi Nahari was killed in action against terrorists at Kfar Aza on October 9, 2023. His family donated his organs. (Courtesy)
  • Staff Sgt. Yehonatan Yitzchak Samo died on November 10, 2023 from wounds he sustained fighting in Israel's war with Hamas. His family donated his organs.
    Staff Sgt. Yehonatan Yitzchak Samo died on November 10, 2023 from wounds he sustained fighting in Israel's war with Hamas. His family donated his organs.
  • Ayelet Samo uses a stethoscope to listen to her son's heart that was transplanted into Yaakov Malka at Beilinson Hospital, November 20, 2023. Samo's husband Moshe is at left. The Samos' son Yehonatan, and IDF soldier, died on November 10, 2023 after being wounded in the war against Hamas. (Courtesy of Beilinson Hospital)
    Ayelet Samo uses a stethoscope to listen to her son's heart that was transplanted into Yaakov Malka at Beilinson Hospital, November 20, 2023. Samo's husband Moshe is at left. The Samos' son Yehonatan, and IDF soldier, died on November 10, 2023 after being wounded in the war against Hamas. (Courtesy of Beilinson Hospital)
  • Ayelet Samo (right) meets 9-month-old Tehila and her mother at Schneider Children's Medical Center on November 20, 2023. Tehila is the recipient of a transplanted liver lobe from Samo's son Yehonatan, who died on November 10, 2023 after being injured in the war against Hamas. (Courtesy of Schneider Children Medical Center)
    Ayelet Samo (right) meets 9-month-old Tehila and her mother at Schneider Children's Medical Center on November 20, 2023. Tehila is the recipient of a transplanted liver lobe from Samo's son Yehonatan, who died on November 10, 2023 after being injured in the war against Hamas. (Courtesy of Schneider Children Medical Center)
  • Sgt. Shoham Ben Harush was injured in the war on October 7, 2023, and died in hospital shortly afterward. His family donated his organs. (Courtesy of the family)
    Sgt. Shoham Ben Harush was injured in the war on October 7, 2023, and died in hospital shortly afterward. His family donated his organs. (Courtesy of the family)

On November 20, Ayelet and Moshe Samo made emotional visits to Beilinson Hospital and Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva. They went to meet two of the recipients of their late son Yehonatan’s organs.

After Staff Sgt. Yehonatan Samo from the IDF Paratroopers died on November 10 from injuries sustained while fighting Hamas in the central Gaza Strip, his parents agreed to donate his heart, lungs, kidneys, and parts of his liver.

His organs were transplanted into six different people in four Israeli hospitals.

“We feel overwhelmed, but the knowledge that we have made life possible for others strengthens us,” Ayelet Samo said.

The names of all IDF soldiers who have fallen in the war that began with the devastating attack on Israel by Hamas on October 7 are published in the news. However, not all the stories of their post-death organ donations are made public.

As a matter of routine, all families are asked if they are willing to donate their loved one’s organs or tissues. If a family agrees, they sign the necessary paperwork, but do not know which organs or tissues are ultimately harvested. The doctors involved determine which are suitable.

It is not known exactly how many families of fallen soldiers have donated their son’s or daughter’s organs or tissues, but some cases have been shared with health reporters by hospitals and the National Transplant Center.

According to National Transplant Center director Dr. Tamar Ashkenazi, full organs can be harvested only from brain-dead individuals. In the case of wounded soldiers, this usually happens when they are rushed to a hospital breathing and with a heartbeat and brain activity, but despite all efforts by medical staff, they do not survive.

Wounded Israeli soldiers arrive at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem, October 7, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/ Flash90)

“The brain death could occur hours, days, or weeks after the person is wounded,” Ashkenazi said.

If a wounded soldier arrives at a hospital dead from cardiac arrest, it may be possible to harvest their tissues. These include skin, bones, ligaments, heart valves, and corneas. Unlike the larger organs harvested from a brain-dead person that must be transplanted immediately, tissues can be banked for later use.

“Whether or not the tissues of a soldier who arrives at a hospital in cardiac arrest can be harvested depends on how long they have been dead and the type of injuries they sustained,” Ashkenazi explained. “Some families want to know what was taken, and some don’t. Some change their mind and ask later.”

Transplant coordinators at Israel’s hospitals always check to see if someone aged 17 or older has an ADI card indicating that they registered to be an organ donor. While the family of the deceased is always asked what they want done, the knowledge that their loved one registered as an organ donor usually plays into their decision.

While some soldiers may register for an ADI card before being drafted into their regular army service, many do not. Ashkenazi mentioned that the National Transplant Center usually mans a donor registration sign-up booth at post-IDF service career and education fairs for newly discharged soldiers. Some reservists may sign up to be ADI card holders then, or subsequently.

Lahak-United Hatzalah medivac teams fly air rescue missions across Israel’s south on October 7, 2023. (courtesy, United Hatzalah)

Ashkenazi acknowledged that deciding on organ donation amid grief and despair over a child’s falling in war can be very difficult. But she also noted that many parents find doing it to be comforting.

“I recently made a shiva [mourning period] visit to one family. The mother was crying, but she told me that her tears were not sad ones. She said she was emotional about the fact that her son could save others in his death,” Ashkenazi said.

The following are the stories of five regular and reserve IDF soldiers who fell in the current war, and whose families agreed to donate their organs to save others’ lives.

Sgt. Amichai Rubin

Sgt. Amichai Rubin, 23, served in the Golani Brigade. On October 7, he was posted close to the Gaza border. When Hamas shelled their position, he and his comrades ran to a fortified building. With only his personal weapon, Rubin was one of the first to engage the terrorists, killing many of them and saving his fellow soldiers.

Cpl. Amichai Rubin, 23, a Golani soldier, from Acre was killed while fighting terrorists during the devastating attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7, 2023. His family donated his organs. (Courtesy of the family)

During the battle, Rubin was shot in the leg and knocked to the ground.  He nonetheless continued fighting, but a few minutes later, he was shot in the head, with the bullet entering his brain. He continued to fight for another 20 minutes until he collapsed.

Rubin and his fellow soldiers were evacuated from the battlefield only after six hours under fire. He arrived unconscious at Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem, and, despite medical staff’s efforts to save him, he died on October 10.

Rubin’s family asked that his organs be donated to save lives. His lungs were transplanted into a 70-year-old man at Beilinson Hospital, his liver into a 23-year-old man at Ichilov Hospital, a lobe of his liver into an 8-year-old boy at Schneider Children’s Medical Center, one of his kidneys into a 29-year-old woman at Beilinson, and the other kidney into a 7-year-old girl at Rambam Medical Center.

Rubin, from Acre, leaves behind his parents and seven brothers and sisters.

Capt. Roi Nahari

Capt. Roi Nahari, 23, a Paratroopers officer was critically injured on October 9 during operations to reconquer and secure Kibbutz Kfar Aza from Hamas terrorists.

Nahari was brought to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba. Despite efforts by doctors to save him, he was declared brain dead. He was transferred by helicopter to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, where his organs were harvested for donation.

Lt. Roi Nahari was killed in action against terrorists at Kfar Aza on October 9, 2023. His family donated his organs. (Courtesy)

His heart went to a 63-year-old man at Sheba Medical Center, his lungs to a 72-year-old man at Beilinson, his liver to a 44-year-old woman at Beilinson, one of his kidneys and his pancreas to a 29-year-old at Ichilov, and the other kidney to a 61-year-old woman at Hadassah Medical Center.

“We knew that Roi would have wanted to donate his organs to save other people. Despite the extremely difficult decision, we decided to make it,” said Nahari’s mother Iris.

Nahari, from Moshav Ora outside Jerusalem, leaves behind his parents and three siblings.

Staff Sgt. Shoham Ben Harush

Staff Sgt. Shoham Ben Harush, 20, served in the Nahal Brigade. He was seriously injured on October 7 while battling terrorists near his post at Kerem Shalom, preventing them from reaching the nearby kibbutz of the same name.

Ben Harush was taken to Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem for treatment, but despite efforts to save him, he was declared brain dead on October 26.

After agreement from his family was obtained, his heart was transplanted into a 48-year-old man, his lungs into a 59-year-old man, and a kidney into a 57-year-old man — all at Sheba. His liver went to a 61-year-old man at Hadassah and his other kidney to a 69-year-old woman at Beilinson.

Ben Harush’s father Ilan said, “I had doubts about the organ donation. I was torn between the importance of the issue and a feeling that told me ‘Don’t touch the boy.'”

Sgt. Shoham Ben Harush was injured in the war on October 7, 2023, and died in hospital shortly afterward. His family donated his organs. (Courtesy of the family)

However, when Ilan Ben Harush heard from his wife that their son had told her that he wanted to be an organ donor, the decision became clear to him.

“I understood that [Shoham] saw beyond what I was seeing and I agreed with his decision. The knowledge that he saved life provides comfort alongside our great pain,” he said.

Ben Harush, from Moshav Hispin in the Golan Heights, leaves behind his parents and five siblings.

Master Sgt. (res.) Naaran Ashchar

Master Sgt. (res) Rabbi Naaran Ashchar, 33, of the 181st Armored Brigade’s 71st Battalion, was critically injured when a tank overturned during an operation on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.

Staff at the intensive care unit at the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya fought for his life for a week, but were ultimately forced to declare him brain dead on November 5.

Ashchar was already known to the National Transplant Center, having altruistically donated one of his kidneys this past June at Beilinson Hospital. He was the third person in his extended family to donate a kidney to someone they did not know.

IDF reserve soldier Rabbi Naaran Ashchar was killed when an IDF tank overturned on Israel’s northern border on November 6, 2023. His family donated his organs. (Courtesy of the family)

“Naaran forgot that he had just donated a kidney a few months ago and went out to war. I convinced him to tell them that he had donated the organ and make sure that he got medical clearance to serve,” said his wife Tzuf.

“After the critical injury and the understanding that we were facing possible brain death, the subject of organ donation was not even a question. It was clear, this was his legacy. We just waited to hear that he could save people,” she said.

Aschar’s heart went to a 59-year-old man and his lungs went to a 72-year-old man, both at Sheba. His liver went to a 67-year-old man at Ichilov and his remaining kidney went to a man aged 43 at Ichilov.

Ashchar, from the West Bank settlement of Shadmot Mehola, leaves behind his wife and two children ages 3 and 6.

Staff Sgt. Yehonatan Samo

Staff Sgt. Yehonatan Samo of the Paratrooper’s 202nd Battalion signed up for an ADI organ donor card well before the war. His mother Ayelet found the card one day and asked him about it.

Staff Sgt. Yehonatan Yitzchak Samo died on November 10, 2023, from wounds he sustained fighting in Israel’s war against Hamas. His family donated his organs.

“He told me, ‘Yes, I registered as an organ donor a while ago.’ He didn’t think twice about the importance of donating his organs. That was Yehonatan. He did everything with a smile and from understanding, accountability, and the will to help,” his mother said.

“The fact that part of him will continue to live and help others… there is nothing more uplifting than that. Because of what he did, many people signed up during the shiva [mourning period] for ADI cards, and I am sure many more will,” she said.

On November 20, Ayelet and her husband Moshe had the opportunity to meet Yaakov Malka, 46, who received their son’s heart. The meeting took place at Beilinson Hospital, where the transplant took place, and Malka, from Kiryat Gat, is still recovering.

In a poignant moment, a doctor gave the Samos a stethoscope so they could listen to their son’s heart beating in Malka’s chest.

Ayelet Samo uses a stethoscope to listen to her son’s heart that was transplanted into Yaakov Malka at Beilinson Hospital, November 20, 2023. Samo’s husband Moshe is at left. The Samos’ son Yehonatan, and IDF soldier, died on November 10, 2023 after being wounded in the war against Hamas. (Courtesy of Beilinson Hospital)

The Samos also went to Schneider Children’s Hospital to meet 9-month-old Tehila and her mother. Tehila, who was born with a serious congenital liver disease had been hospitalized for a long time and and had already undergone another surgery. Tehila desperately needed a lifesaving transplant, and the donation of a lobe of Yehonatan Samo’s liver came just in time.

Tehila’s mother turned to Ayelet Samo and said, “I am so moved. I don’t have the words to thank you. My little girl has been born again thanks to your son.”

Yehonatan Samo, from the West Bank settlement Karmei Tzur, leaves behind his parents and four siblings.

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