The blast knocked Roy Grilak violently to the ground. As he lay there, trying desperately to get up, he knew something was wrong. He reached for his legs, but instead felt a strange warmth spreading over his lower body. His legs were shattered. He was bleeding out. And he was in mortal danger.
Grilak, like most Israelis, joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) when he turned 18. Almost immediately after enlisting, in 2006, he was sent into battle during the Second Lebanon War. On a mission in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah terrorists ambushed Grilaks squad. A resulting explosion near Grilak crushed his legs and he started losing blood. Grilak was immediately flown to Rambam Hospital where he was given ten units of blood to treat the wounds and, ultimately, save his life.
The blood that saved Grilak came via Magen David Adom (MDA), Israels national ambulance, blood-services and disaster-relief organization. MDA is often recognized for its fleet of more than 1,000 ambulances and 125 medical stations. But its role as the custodian of Israels national blood supply is a critical part of its mission of saving lives.
New blood center
As Grilak discovered, in Israel blood means life. MDA collects, safety-tests and distributes Israels entire blood supply. Today, MDA supplies 97 percent of Israels civilian blood and all the blood for the IDF. But storing and safeguarding that blood has become a challenge for MDA. Its National Blood Services Center, the beating heart of its blood services division, was built in 1987, mostly through the generosity of American donors, when MDA had to collect 175,000 units of blood annually (one unit is approximately a half-liter) to meet the needs of what was then Israels 4.4 million people.
Today, thanks to massive immigration in the 1990s from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and other countries, Israels population has swelled to more than 8 million, requiring MDA to collect 400,000 units of blood. By 2030, Israels population is expected to reach 10 million. The current blood centers resources are simply stretched too thin.
We want to provide the people of Israel the same high level of medicine that you would get in the U.S., for example, says MDA Director of Blood Services Professor Eilat Shinar, a global expert in blood management. For this to happen, we need a new facility that would be bigger and safer and which can incorporate new technologies, such as Israels growing cord-blood program, where stem cells are stored for cutting-edge medical treatments around the world.
But building a bigger national blood center by itself doesnt address all of Israels needs. It also must be more secure from attack, a lesson learned during 2012s Operation Pillar of Defense, when long-range Hamas rockets reached the center of Israel, making the blood center, located near Tel Aviv, vulnerable. MDA officials say a new blood center must be reinforced, with secure underground facilities to protect its processing and storage services from both ballistic rockets and chemical attack. An additional, little-known but serious concern is buried deep underground. Israel sits on two active fault lines, so – unlike the current building – a new blood center must also be earthquake-resistant.
Capital campaign in the U.S.
Support for a new blood center is on the way. American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA) recently launched a major national capital campaign to help raise the necessary funds for a new MDA national blood center. Several individuals, including Barbara Kay and her late husband Jack, already made generous contributions. And on October 6, a gala in Beverly Hills honoring Dina and Fred Leeds brought out the Los Angeles community in support of the new blood center. The $3.8 million raised at the gala was the most ever raised at a single AFMDA event.
Everyone knows that MDAs paramedics and ambulances save lives every day in Israel, but not enough people know how important blood is to the countrys survival, says Dina Leeds. Supporting a new blood center is absolutely essential.
Israelis themselves have an equally essential role to play. Donating blood is an easy and safe way to help ensure that their country has a readily available and sustainable blood supply. Israel, however, is not unlike most other countries that struggle to find donors. Currently, approximately four percent of Israelis donate blood. In order for the countrys blood supply to be self-sufficient, it needs at least five percent of its population to donate. MDA uses a variety of campaigns in schools, the IDF, universities and workplaces to raise the publics awareness of the issue.
Blood drives for visitors to Israel
For Americans who give blood in Israel, the experience can be very emotional, akin to leaving behind part of ones soul in the Holy Land. In November, MDA is organizing a large-scale blood drive in Jerusalem to coincide with the Jewish Federations of North Americas annual General Assembly conference.
AFMDAs Heart-to-Heart program encourages Christian Americans to give blood during their stays in Israel, or virtually by making a gift to AFMDA (Israel is not legally allowed to accept blood donated from outside its borders with the exception of catastrophic incidents). Last month, members of the Christians Israel Public Action Campaign (CIPAC) visited Israel and made blood donation a stop on their itinerary.
With recent use of chemical weapons in Syria, and threats from Iran and its terrorist cohorts in Hamas and Hezbollah, the need to stand with Israel has never been more vital, says Richard Hellman, a CIPAC leader. Theres no more clear way to demonstrate this than by donating blood in Jerusalem.
The donations are critical because, unlike other proteins in the human body, the red blood cells found in blood are nearly impossibly to synthesize or create artificially. We cannot make blood, Professor Shinar explains. It has to come from human volunteers who are healthy and willing to give 30 minutes of their time in order to donate one unit of blood.
For Grilak, the soldier whose life was saved by the emergency MDA transfusion, the lesson was simple: blood is a universal lifesaver. In Israel, every single drop of blood is collected by MDA, Grilak, now recuperated, says. They help to save the lives of everyone; it doesnt matter if youre a banker, a postman or a soldier.
To learn more about MDAs work, visit www.afmda.org.