Saturday, 13 January 2018

My Kind of Hero

There is a Hebrew saying that reads:
"איזהו גבור? -  הכובש את יצרו"
 (who is a hero? One who controls his urge)

Avi Dorfman is a survivor of a terror attack carried out by Hamas. 
Survivors of terror attacks are all special people who lived to tell their horrific story. 

Avi, however, is unlike many of them. Avi was dealt the blow because he was trying to SAVE a friend, Tal Kain, and he did. Avi overcame a selfish urge to run for cover, an inherent human urge to avoid getting hurt. Instead, he chose to ensure that a friend is removed from harm’s way and himself ended with serious injuries.

You will rarely hear Avi tell his great story of survival. He is a modest young man who has never turned his victimhood into a means of survival let alone promote himself as a hero. In the words of my dear friend Roger Froikin: “today, people who are victims, who merely survive, are being called heroes – and they are not.”

Here is Avi’s story of miraculous survival, a story that has inspired many including my students who heard him speak and many more. Special thanks go to Yael Pedhatzur and to Michal Dar-El for their inspirational comments.

“My story is short & simple (and horrible in the middle). I had a perfect kind of childhood: no bullies, no fears, and I excelled in studying at the toughest levels both in school (math, computer science, pre-med, physics, and more) and by myself. I taught myself photography from the 8th grade (I took the annual yearbook's photos, guitar playing, computerized music (I started and manned the Audio-Visual control board for my school in ceremonies and events!), and computer science at least at a Master's degree level by the time I was 14. I knew all about Israel (biblical & modern history), it's neighbours, and it's technological prowess. I had simply excelled and was technically one rank below Valedictorian (one girl had a higher GPA but lacked these other fields of expertise). I was also aware of terrorism - two buses had exploded, and Prime Minister Rabin was shot right next to my house. I was destined to go to an elite IDF unit.
September 11, 2007 (...Twin Towers, different year...) was our last night at the IDF basic training base in the south. 1:30am. Tzeva Adom (red alert). Rocket alarms sounded. The Islamic Jihad launched a rocket to our area. We were in the 15 second impact range. We all woke and ran for cover. I noticed that a long-time friend of mine, Tal, who did basic training with me, was still sleeping. I nudged him and waited for him outside our tent, looking at the nearby empty tent. I suddenly saw a very quick white flash and heard the words "NOT YET!" ("od lo!"). Then, I had what *seemed to be* 20 seconds of seeing a soup of colors - just red, yellow, orange, black, and white, swirling around.
It was a Qassam rocket. These are the lighter artillery rockets of Hamas, and they are packed with shrapnel to maximize Israeli casualties and deaths (just look at Sderot). 68 soldiers were hit, 9 of whom were injured badly (e.g. lost a leg), and I was the worst: critical injury due to shrapnel. One piece went into the neck (2 millimeters away from killing me), one cut my index finger, and one went through the eye and into the brain. I had seen the previously mentioned colors for 20 seconds before I heard the rocket explode - from a meter away. My brain had managed to squeeze 20 seemingly seconds before the sound had reached me from only a meter away. I blacked out. I was technically awake, but I "woke up" as in regained consciousness while I was standing and telling a word salad to the base doctor (not a word salad as in confusion of words, but literally a salad - panicly saying onions, tomatoes, lemons, and the like). I again blacked out and woke up an estimated 5 weeks later. Keep in mind that I was awake through the entire time - but I was blacked out and cannot and could not know or remember a single thing (e.g. if you asked me "how are you?" then I would answer that I am fine - regardless of the tons of blood flowing out from my head). Both brain hemispheres were hit and my brain's linguistics section was the worst area damaged as far as they could see. The rocket had also removed my sense of smell and made it extremely difficult to cry (I only shed tears twice from that date). I was immediately evacuated (the first one out) to Barzilai Hospital and flown (love 669 (S&R) helicopters!) to Tel HaShomer Hospital - I owe these two places my life, as well as Ichilov Hospital for returning my forehead bones (they were removed so the brain would have the needed space to expand from the injury).
Light brain injuries (e.g. concussions) take 2 months of hospital & rehabilitation stay to officially pass. My injury was critical. I was, at the best-case scenario, supposed to take a whole year to recover and only then start my rehabilitation stay. But, this is assuming the worst-case scenario did not happen and the best case did - there was also a 30% chance that I would die within 10 days.

I thank God for what had happened since the rocket impact. Literally. I now know there is a God - no more assumptions, but facts. I had moments of consciousness, but it was a "different" consciousness - I had experienced actual death (no past memories, no senses, no thoughts, simply seeing black). But, then I woke up one morning around the fifth week (four weeks of hospital stay were done - this was the first week at rehabilitation!). I saw a hospital staying room, with the IDF casualties officer (for that woman!) smiling at me, and my parents sitting nearby. I did not know at the time how I was hit, but my memory and abilities had remarkably stayed (and so I can tell you this), and I actually had perfect control but slightly worse hand-eye coordination because of losing an eye (a white piece of plastic was there so I did not notice anything wrong - despite the fact it did not have an iris or cornea), and I did not notice that my forehead was boneless (because the skin was still there - although I could see the brain's patterns on it). I did not notice that I could not smell (until I came home and immediately made and omelet - I judged their readiness by their smell). I also had a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in my leg, essentially blocked blood flow in an artery, and that had resulted in me being in a wheelchair for a while. I also slept for almost 16 hours every day. I had various other considered-permanent disabilities (e.g. single colored blindness - I saw green instead of a bright brown shade), but they had passed extremely quickly (miracles!!!). I was given various experimental medications (love Factor Seven enhancement!), and I recovered almost completely within a total of 7 weeks. I was home then, after 7 weeks, walking and talking and seemingly able. Much faster than light brain injuries! I was EXTREMELY happy (especially when I learned of how I was injured). I did not notice it until then, but my long-term memory was intact - but the very short-term memory (e.g. my parents are sitting behind me) was not. I then volunteered to return to the IDF of my own accord and to my commander's encouragement and the Medical Corp's massive suggestions. I got amazing gifts (gold medal, statuette, #1 medical miracle ever gotten by the IDF Medical Corp), and I had an incredible service in the IDF. LOVE!” 

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