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IDF finds problems, but no blame, in senior officer’s apparent fatal heart attack

Following investigation, army chief calls for installation of defibrillators in every gym, better tracking of at-risk service members, routine exams for career officers

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Col. Sharon Asman, with his daughter Emma. May 17, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/FLASH90)
Col. Sharon Asman, with his daughter Emma. May 17, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/FLASH90)

An Israel Defense Forces investigation into the sudden death of Col. Sharon Asman, who collapsed while exercising on a military base last year, found a number of issues in the army’s healthcare system, but none of them caused his death, the military said Tuesday.

Asman, 42, who had just been appointed commander of the Nahal Infantry Brigade, collapsed suddenly after a short run with a number of other military officers. He received first aid at the scene but was pronounced dead a short while later.

More than half a year after Asman’s death, the military has still not been able to determine the precise cause, but it appeared to be a form of heart failure, likely caused by an undiagnosed heart condition, the IDF said.

The investigative committee, led by Brig. Gen. (res.) Guy Hasson, presented its findings to IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi on Monday.

The committee found that medical personnel who were called in when Asman collapsed were slow to use a defibrillator, which can control the rhythm of the heart, and that one should have been brought in sooner. Still doing so would not have necessarily saved his life, the military said.

“The committee found that the Nahal Brigade physician responded rapidly, reaching Col. Sharon Asman of blessed memory within mere minutes of his collapse, and immediately began performing CPR with help from a Magen David Adom ambulance team that arrived at the scene. In addition to the medical treatment, the committee found that it would have been correct to involve the defibrillator at an earlier point in the CPR process. At the same time, this finding does not mean that the results of this tragic event were preventable,” the military said in a statement.

The investigative committee did not find anyone culpable for Asman’s death.

The committee recommended installing defibrillators in every military exercise facility, as is already legally required in every civilian gym. It also recommended improving cooperation between the military and the MDA ambulance service in order to ensure faster response times in the future.

The recommendations were accepted by Kohavi, who ordered defibrillators installed in every IDF gym by July 1, 2022 — the first anniversary of Asman’s death.

In addition, Kohavi accepted the committee’s recommendations that the military ensure that health declarations by service members be regularly filled out, that at-risk service members be more closely monitored and that career soldiers undergo regular physical exams as a requirement for promotion.

The findings of the probe were shown to Asman’s family, the IDF said.

Asman’s death came as a particular shock to the military, as he had only started in the post of brigade commander a few days before and was seen as a rising star in the IDF.

Asman had served in the military for some 25 years and fought in Lebanon and Gaza.

Head of the IDF’s Northern Command Amir Baram said Asman was “a warrior and a wonderful military man.”

“He was a sabra — tough on the outside and sensitive on the inside. He always cared for his subordinate soldiers and officers, his colleagues and his commanders,” Baram said.

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