News and Events

In the Right Place at the Right Time: Rambam Nurse Saves Man’s Life on the Beach

Publication Date: 2/12/2024 11:00 AM
While enjoying a day out with her family, Michal Kaplan-Gabay, head nurse in the Department of Cardiac Surgery at Rambam Health Care Campus (Rambam) in Haifa, Israel, witnessed a man collapse during his run along the beach. What she did next saved his life.
Michal Kaplan-Gabay (middle), together with Eli Pachisker and his wife. Photography: Courtesy of those photographed.Michal Kaplan-Gabay (middle), together with Eli Pachisker and his wife. Photography: Courtesy of those photographed.

While Kaplan-Gabay may lead the team of nurses in Cardiac Surgery at Rambam, she certainly did not expect to be called upon to save a life while “off-duty.” On a recent Saturday morning, Kaplan-Gabay, her husband, and four children were at the beach. Suddenly, she saw people gathering. As she approached the crowd to investigate, she saw that a man had collapsed. It was clear to her, at that time, that he had no pulse, was unconscious, and not breathing. Without hesitation, she began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) while asking for a defibrillator and for someone to call an ambulance. Later, Kaplan-Gabay learned that she had saved the life of 42-year-old Eli Pachisker, a resident of Kiryat Mozkin, a Haifa suburb.

Looking back on the events that unfolded that morning, Kaplan-Gabay explains, “It was clear to me that he had suffered a fatal arrhythmia. Paramedics arrived within minutes and continued treatment, including electric shocks.”

Kaplan-Gabay remained focused on saving Pachisker’s life, even after giving way to the Magen David Adom (MDA) emergency team. After introducing herself to them and explaining the situation, she asked them to refer Pachisker to Rambam. She then contacted Ella Nigel, a nurse at Rambam who coordinates use of Rambam’s extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machines, specialized devices available in only a few of Israeli’s hospitals – Kaplan-Gabay knew the ECMO might help with Pachisker’s recovery. While Rambam personnel prepared to receive Pachisker, the MDA team continued to treat him. Thankfully, on the way to the hospital, they managed to restore his pulse.

Pachisker had no recollection of the incident. “I remember the walk that preceded the collapse and waking up at Rambam. From what I was told, if Michal had not been there, the story would have ended differently. The fact that she was there to take care of me from the very first moment is nothing short of a miracle.”

Following his recovery, the two were reunited at Rambam. “I didn’t remember her,” Pachisker explains. “Suddenly she entered the room and I couldn't find the words to thank her. How can you even put into words gratitude for someone who saved your life? She was in the right place at the right time, and saved someone who needed help. While it is true that this is what she does every day, in my case, she worked overtime,” he concludes with a smile.

“Fortunately, Michal was the first responder after I went into cardiac arrest,” says Pachisker, who had fainted in the middle of his run along the beach. “I was very lucky. She administered cardiac massage until the ambulance arrived and then the emergency team gave me the electric shocks that restored my pulse. She saved my life”

Despite her many years of experience, Kaplan-Gabay’s meeting with Pachisker was particularly moving. “The last time I saw him he was lying on the ground, fighting for his life,” she recalls. “Suddenly, I see a young, vibrant man, talking to his wife. Things come full circle. It brought up a lot of emotions.”

Kaplan-Gabay stresses how important a rapid response is in cases of cardiac arrest, pointing out that by observing Pachisker, she immediately understood that he needed CPR. She explains, “When a person suddenly faints and is pulseless and breathless, it can only be the result of an arrhythmia. This particular arrhythmia can only be treated with an electric shock, a defibrillator. But a device is not always available, so having a person who understands the problem is very important. The victim must by laid down straight, and compressions should be applied to the heart area. Anyone can do this. You don't have to be a professional.”

Kaplan-Gabay goes on to add, “As I was giving chest compressions, I clearly recall people telling me that Pachisker was breathing, but that wasn’t true. When there is an arrhythmia you can hear a sort of wheezing, which, to an untrained person, sounds like breathing. But it is just a sound. That is why you must not stop the compressions, not even for a moment. The ongoing compressions are taking care of the blood supply to the brain, which is the most important. Stopping the compressions in this case may cause physical damage, especially brain damage.”

A case like this is a testament to the importance of acquiring life-saving skills, according to Kaplan-Gabay. “A variety of factors influenced the decisions I made, but in incidents like this, every minute counts. The sooner treatment begins, the greater the chances of saving a life and the inevitable quality of life for the patient. You don't have to be a doctor or a medic to have these life-saving skills. I urge everyone who has some free time to sign up for a CPR course through one of your HMOs.”

In addition to her regular responsibilities, Kaplan-Gabay has been assisting the nursing staff at Yoseftal Medical Center in Eilat, Israel, due to the war. During her 25 years of experience as a nurse, similar incidents like the one with Pachisker have happened while admitting patients to the department and assisting with surgery. But Pachisker’s case was different. “Helping him was not part of the job,” says Kaplan-Gabay. “It continued to occupy my mind. That evening I called the cardiac intensive care unit to check on him. I wanted to know what was going on with him. I came to visit him.”

She adds, “There is a saying in the army that goes, ‘If you saved my life, then you are responsible for me always.’ I chose the profession of saving lives. I have no doubt that any nurse or doctor who came across the same situation would have done the same.”

Based on an article originally published in Hebrew on Ynet.