Participants from the “Ninja Israel” television show are stepping up to provide encouragement to young patients at Ruth Rappaport Children’s Hospital, and even sent birthday wishes to a ten-year-old fan who is currently receiving cancer treatment at Rambam Health Care Campus.
Itai Zuckerman, a ten-year-old from the northern Israeli town of Zichron Yaacov, is a die-hard fan of the "Ninja Israel" television series, Israel’s version of “American Ninja Warrior”. Until recently, Itai spent most of his time training and trying to meet the challenges offered by the popular program, with the hope that he would someday become a competitor.
Approximately a month-and-a-half ago, during one of his ninja training sessions, Itai was badly injured in a fall. Suspecting a fracture, he was rushed to the nearest HMO, where he was referred to the Cheryl Spencer Pediatric Emergency Department at Rambam Health Care Campus. During standard testing, Itai’s doctors noticed something suspicious, which later turned out to be a difficult and unexpected diagnosis – Itai had Ewing’s Sarcoma, a type of bone cancer. "The discovery was quite surprising," explains Dr. Mordechai Oz, a senior physician in the Joan & Sanford Weill Division of Pediatric Hematology – Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation in Rambam’s Ruth Rappaport Children's Hospital. "Because of the fall, we discovered the cancer and caught it at a relatively early stage."
Since being diagnosed, Itai has been has been in and out of the children’s hospital for treatments, tests, and appointments, and the staff has become like an extended family. When Itai celebrated his tenth birthday during another hospitalization recently, the staff decided to surprise him and organized an unusual event: a birthday party with members of his immediate family by his side, relatives on Zoom, and special greetings from some particularly important guests.
Sitting in the Greidinger Hall movie theater in Ruth Rappaport Children's Hospital, a video was displayed on the movie screen in which prominent "Ninja Israel" competitors appeared one after the other, congratulating Itai on his birthday and sending him good wishes.
"Hi Itai Zuckerman, this is Guy Davidov, a Ninja Israel participant," the video opens, followed by encouraging words from Harel Dodson, another competitor. "I want to wish you complete recovery, and hope that you will come through everything feeling strengthened." Other participants joined in and offered the happy youth numerous blessings and best wishes, with some also inviting him to join them for training after his recovery.
Itai could not hide his excitement as he saw the competitors address him personally, sending him encouragement and congratulations. "Thank you for the blessings," he said shyly and kept smiling. "It’s very exciting," explained Ronit, Itai’s mother, at the event and added, "Thank you to everyone who sent their greetings. We really appreciate it and feel supported. Itai is a boy who is a ninja at heart and is waiting to get on the track. He is excited by every wish and every strong person who offers such good wishes to him, so thank you very, very much."
Behind the project are "Ninja Israel" contestants, Trevor Galor and Yair Schechter, who decided to leverage the challenges of dealing with the ninja track and the values derived from it to strengthen children and teenagers who need it. As such, the connection to the children at Ruth Rappaport Children’s Hospital was quick and natural. These days, more children who are being treated at Rambam are expected to receive messages of encouragement from the contestants of "Ninja Israel".
According to Tamar Shochat, the administrator at Ruth Rappaport Children's Hospital, this is an empowering connection that contributes to everyone involved. "We have created a project in which the Ninja participants welcome our children who are struggling with serious and life-threatening chronic diseases. We thought it would be right for these individuals who are engaged in acts of strength, ability, perseverance, and the desire to reach a certain goal, to connect with our children and give them the inspiration and strength to keep going, to provide the support and love they need, and to show our young heroes that it is possible to beat everything."