Israel’s first lady received new lung from teenage donor

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Nechama and Reuven Rivlin

The family of 19-year-old Yair Yechezkel Halbali donated his organs to seven people after he tragically drowned in Eilat, and by doing so saved the life of Nechama Rivlin, who suffers from pulmonary fibrosis

At 10pm on Sunday night, Nechama Rivlin, the wife of President Reuven Rivlin, got a phone call she had been waiting years for.

On the other end of the line was her doctor, Prof. Mordechai Kramer, head of Pulmonary Medicine at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva.

“Mrs. Rivlin, we have a lung for you,” he told her.

Yair Yechezkel Halbali
Yair Yechezkel Halbali

But one family’s joy was another’s tragedy – for the lung belonged to 19-year-old Yair Yechezkel Halbali, whose family donated his organs after he drowned in an accident in Eilat.

This is was not the first time that Israel’s first lady received a phone call announcing a suitable donor. A month ago, a similar call was made and Mrs. Rivlin, 73, began the transplant procedure, but the intended lung was not suitable.

Despite that disappointment, this time there was the feeling that the donor lung was suitable, and within an hour the Rivlin family was at Beilinson Hospital. Confirmation that the lung was indeed suitable came late Sunday night, and preparations for the operation began.

The president stayed with his wife all night, until she was taken down to the operating room. Only then did he return to Jerusalem to rest a little, and then insisted on continuing with a scheduled speech. Later, in the recovery room, there was an emotional meeting between President Rivlin and members of Yair Halbali’s family.

Mrs. Rivlin has for many years suffered from pulmonary fibrosis. In the past year, her condition deteriorated to the extent that she required an oxygen tank at all times. Despite her illness, she insisted on continuing with all her activities — cultivating the community garden at the President’s Residence, awarding the First Lady’s Prize for Israeli poetry, working with children with disabilities, and much more.

As is customary after a lung transplant, Mrs. Rivlin is sedated and intubated until she becomes stronger and can breathe again on her own. The President’s Residence said that her condition was stable and that she was surrounded by her immediate family. Her doctors reported that the new lung had begun to work and that the respiratory apparatus to which she was connected was at this stage only providing support.

“Mrs. Rivlin is a strong woman, and has high potential for survival despite her advanced age,” said Prof. Kramer.

Prof. Dan Aravot, Director of the Beilinson Cardiothoracic Surgery Center, added: “Nechama has very good prospects, but the road ahead is still long. The whole team is optimistic and hoping for the best.”

Aside from the first lady, Yair’s organs helped another six people to live.

“Yair loved the sea, loved nature, he loved to study and explore and broaden his horizons,” said his sister, Amit.

Last Wednesday, Yair traveled with a friend to Eilat for a week-long vacation of camping on the beach and free diving. He sent his family videos of fish and the sea and expressions of his delight. But on Friday, the beach holiday turned into a nightmare.

 

 Yair Yechezkel Halbali

Yair Yechezkel Halbali

 

“From what we understand, he spotted a sunken missile boat and wanted to swim out to it,” Amit said. “He was always sure of himself, he had no fear. Someone who was on the beach contacted us and told us that Yair waved at him, but then apparently fainted in the water.”

Divers who came across Yair in the water him used extensive CPR to in an effort to revive the teenager, but their efforts were was in vain and on Sunday night he was pronounced dead.

“We did not know who would receive the organs, it was simply important for us to save lives,” his sister said. “I would like Nechama and Reuven to know that they were given a great gift, that Yair’s light and courage will propel all the transplants and strengthen them.”

 

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