When Water has the Power to Heal

June 28, 2024

Nothing could be further from the horrors and damage of war than healing waters. But those waters are a big part of how Sheba brings the wounded “Back to Life.”

Sheba Medical Center built its first hydrotherapy pool to treat casualties of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. As you might guess, there has been a lot of progress since then.

In 1998 a new Hydrotherapy Department was built within The Integrated Rehabilitation Hospital. Two years ago, an additional pool was built with innovative technologies, four aqua-bikes, a See-Me Virtual Reality System and submerged lights and cameras for computer monitoring of patient progress.

Sheba is now anxiously awaiting the installation of two underwater treadmills for gait training. These advanced devices will enable them to calculate water depth, walking speed and distance, specifying the dose of aquatic therapy tailored to each patient. Jacuzzi jets encourage soldiers to relax after intense training sessions.

On October 7 Sheba staff awoke to hundreds of military personnel and civilians with close-up gunshot wounds admitted for treatment and then most for eventual rehabilitation. But the usual water exercises were not enough to challenge the highly motivated soldiers who, prior to their injury, were at peak cardiovascular fitness. Caroline Barmatz, Director of the Hydrotherapy Department immediately adapted to the situation by allowing and encouraging the soldiers to swim lengths of the swimming pool at specified times of the day.

On Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, clients unable to stand for the 2-minute silence on land were invited to join the hydrotherapy pool staff in the supportive environment water provides.

Moshe Yacoby, aquatic therapist and outstanding member of the Sheba team since 1998, saw the potential to push further. He initiated group pool therapy for the wounded soldier population. Twenty excited swimmers arrived at the pool deck, some ambulating with crutches, others confined to wheelchairs. Even the most motivated athletes will have motivational lapses when they are injured, and every coach’s dream is to have swimmers rolling into the pool with 25 mega-watts of motivation. Utilizing Moshe’s background as a water-polo coach, each swimmer was taught to focus both on their individual rehab goals and using the whole group as motivation. Individual exercises were also combined with training in pairs, partners helping each drive each other further.

All the necessary precautions were taken, earplugs were provided for patients who had undergone blast injuries causing perforation of the eardrum, goggles to protect damaged eyes. Wounded soldiers with amputated limbs disabled on land entered the pool with assistance, once in water demonstrated independence and adapted swimming abilities. Etgarim Challenge Organization volunteers joined us in teaching wounded military personnel interested in learning scuba diving. Clients experimented with equipment adapted to all types of disabilities.

Caroline Barmatz says: “I feel honored to be able to provide an island of sanity in these challenging times. Watching our heroes swim gives me and my staff a boost of energy. Am Yisrael Chai.”

Maybe the next Jacques Cousteau is today a wounded soldier learning to love scuba diving.

Am Yisrael Chai indeed.


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