Walter G. Wasser

Rav Morrie: Back from the Dead

Rav Morrie’s wife Anna was home in Jerusalem when she got the call.

“Anna,” the camp director said solemnly.  “Come right away.  Morrie’s had a massive heart attack.  The situation does not look good.”

Anna had no time to ponder.  She knew she had to get from Israel to Scranton, Pennsylvania immediately.  She moved heaven and earth to get on the first flight she could.  She prayed that Rav Morrie would hang on until she got there.

Anna is a nurse.  She knew Rav Morrie’s medical situation well.  His father and uncle both died of cardiac arrest at ages sixty-seven and seventy-five, respectively.  She’s the one who pushed Morrie to start doing cardiac sceening while in his fifties.

She tried to reassure herself .  Morrie takes care of himself, she thought.  He really sticks to his exercise schedule.  He gets regular check-ups and blood tests, and takes his cholesterol meds.  He doesn’t smoke, and he really does stick to a pretty healthy diet.  And  with all that, and the good blood tests, his doctors were satisfied that he was not at risk for cardiac trouble.

Anna hadn’t thought twice about Rav Morrie’s trip to Pennsylvania.  For years Rav Morrie had flown to summer camp there, to serve as the steward of the camp kitchen.  He did get paid, but what he loved was helping out and he and the family had been going there for years.

Everyone who knows Rav Morrie (Moshe Yisrael ben Rochel Golda) recognizes that he is a tzaddik. If you had any doubt about it, G-d himself made one of His dramatic appearances for Rav Morrie recently, just to let us know.

The Rav’s accomplishments speak for themselves.  Despite all the difficulties, Rav Morrie made aliyah to Israel.  He is a rebbe par excellence to post high school yeshiva students, and is a beloved teacher outside of his yeshiva.  He is a wonderful husband to Anna, and father to five terrific children. He is a caring father in-law, and a doting grandfather.

And Rav Morrie cares for of his ninety-seven-year old mother, may she be blessed with health for many more years. Not to mention that he is also there   for Anna’s parents.  He helped them to make and carry out the decision to leave Jersey City, New Jersey when they were both in their nineties (!) to join the family in Israel.

While at camp this summer, he went for his daily walk on the camp road, and just as he was at the end of his route, he felt mild nausea and some tingling in one of the fingers on his right hand. He went to the camp physician and was reassured that the symptoms where most possibly muscular in nature.

A few days later at the end of his walk, Rav Morrie collapsed near the entrance to the camp. He had no pulse.  Camp paramedics resuscitated him and  defibrillated him four times over the next twenty-five minutes. Rav Morrie was intubated, and raced by ambulance, unconscious, to the Regional Hospital of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Chances of survival after an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, even under the best of circumstances,  are only about ten percent.  After sustained unconsciousness a patient’s chances are not much better;  chances for a total recovery are but a few percent. The statistics were not in Rav Morrie’s favor.

When Anna arrived at the hospital, the ICU staff took her to the “quiet room” and explained Morrie’s precarious situation. “Morrie always comes home,” Anna responded.  It took everything she had to try to not lose hope, in the face of what she knew, and had been told.

When the doctors removed the sedation, Rav Morrie woke up, pulled out his endotracheal tube, and began speaking.

Five weeks and two coronary stent procedures later, Rav Morrie and Anna returned home to Jerusalem. On Shabbat Haazinu, in our synagogue, Rav Morrie gave 2 elaborate drashot.  He and Anna sponsored a “Kiddush of Thanksgiving” to celebrate his miraculous recovery. Although Rav Morrie is mostly back to his former self, he is still a bit tired.

Now Rav Morrie makes a point of telling his story to others.  He encourages them to learn from his experience, and take proper steps to protect themselves from heart disease.

Rav Morrie tells others that if they feel chest discomfort or pain in an arm or hand, associated with exercise (actually any unusual symptom in those areas), they must immediately see medical attention.  This type of thing requires urgent cardiac evaluation especially if someone has cardiac risk factors. Rav Morrie recognizes that, heaven forbid, had he not gotten immediate medical intervention, he would not be alive today.

Rav Morrie shows his appreciation for the gift of a second chance at life by preaching about prevention to others.

May Rav Morrie merit many more healthy years, and may he influence many others to do the same.

About the Author
The author is a specialist in nephrology and internal medicine and lives with his wife and family in Jerusalem.