December 4, 2020
The miracle story of a man who had a rod through his head - and survived
By Barbara Sofer
I thought I knew the details of this miracle story, which made its way around the world. You can find it on sites abroad like that of the NBC’s Today Show, the Daily Mail and of course The Jerusalem Post, written by Maayan Hoffman. Like many real-life stories I’ve written over the years, I later discover there’s a story behind the story that makes them even more miraculous.
On February 14, 2020, Kamel Abdul Rahman, a private investigator for a major Israeli agency and father of three, finished praying at the Abu Ghosh mosque and went to check on the construction of his new home. Like many houses in Abu Ghosh, his was based on the addition of a floor above an existing home, in this case belonging to his wife’s parents. Rahman opened the door to the outside of this second floor apartment and slipped, falling head first. He assumed he was dying. In the fraction of the second of his fall he managed to thank God for the good life he’d lived: the caring family that brought him up, his wife and children, his career.
And then he landed. A long iron rod upright on the ground penetrated his skull.
To his surprise he was still alive, and feeling no pain.
Alerted to his fall, his brother and neighbors were screaming in panic. The fire department arrived to cut the rod short enough on both sides so that he could fit in the ambulance. The Magen David Adom ambulance driver asked for his identity number, and Rahman gave it correctly. Nonetheless, word went around the village that he couldn’t possibly survive.
Venezuela-born neurosurgeon Samuel Moscovici was summoned to the shock trauma center at Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem. There he saw a man with a metal pole entering one side of his head and coming out the other.
Dr. Moscovici is unflappable. Not long before this case he repaired the skull of a 10-year-old boy who had fallen down an elevator shaft. He waited for the CT scans, and consulted ear, nose and throat colleagues. He would have also asked for an MRI but the rod was metal and that made a magnetic resonance imaging impossible.
The rod missed two major arteries that bring blood to the brain, but the full extent of the damage was still unknown. Dr. Moscovici and his team began removing the 12 millimeter (half an inch) thick rod, moving very slowly. An unseen tear would mean immediate death. Four hours later it was out! And no, Moscovici didn’t save it. Once Rahman was stabilized, a second 10-hour surgery endoscopically, through the nose, stopped cerebrospinal fluid from leaking, and the skull was closed using the patient’s belly fat.
When Rahman awakened in Hadassah Hospital’s neurological intensive care unit, he was unsure if he was on earth or in heaven. He left the hospital 24 days after the accident with a mild headache. That’s what he told me on the phone when I called to follow-up the story in May. I also wanted to visit him, but it was Ramadan and he was still recovering.
I made that trip last week, meeting up with Moscovici and a film team to record this unusual reunion.
WAZE BRINGS me through the winding narrow streets of the picturesque community of 8,000 – known worldwide for its distinctive hummus. Just as I park, Moscovici hails me. Rahman is waiting outside the two-story home. He looks terrific, a smiling, trim and fit 46-year-old. He has lost 13 kilograms since the accident nine months ago. Except for a scar near his ear, he has no physical evidence of what he’s gone through or what’s gone through him.
Because of coronavirus we will meet outdoors. A long table is set up in the backyard. This makes me uneasy. Knowing that lavish hospitality is part of local culture I have beseeched him twice not to cook for us because we keep kosher.
Then we are joined by Aya Rahman, his beautiful wife, and their three beautiful daughters, ages 12, 11 and eight. Here is where our story diverts.
The year before her husband’s accident, Aya Rahman, a Hebrew and Israeli-culture teacher in a local school, was struck by the mysterious immunosuppressive Guillain–Barré syndrome. The potentially fatal weakness caused by the immune system attacking the nervous system put her in the hospital, and then confined her to a wheelchair. It wasn’t merely renovations that Rahman was checking on the day of his accident; he was building a disability-suited home for his beloved wife. Fortunately, though still undergoing intensive physical therapy, Aya has regained her ability to walk. The planned-for wheelchair ramp outside the second-floor door has been turned into stairs.
Rahman shows Moscovici where he fell. It’s even more impressive in person to think of him plummeting from that height.
As we’re talking, the feast begins.
“I ordered it all from a kosher restaurant,” confesses Rahman, with a bit of embarrassment, as baskets of fruit, trays of salads and yes, hummus fill the outdoor table. We declare this as a seudat hodaya (thanksgiving meal), appropriately on Thanksgiving week, for not one, but two parents.
We toast with coffee in delicate demitasse.
The three daughters, Dima, Diana and Lin, found it hard to answer the many questions from their classmates when both of their parents were close to death.
Moscovici, 39 and a father of three himself, turns to the girls. Speaking in his soft and reassuring voice, he says, “I usually don’t mention this, but I want to share something with you. When I was a year and a half old in Venezuela, my mother had a growth removed from her back. As a result, she became paralyzed from the shoulders down. She brought us up nevertheless, not missing anything, even traveling abroad. As soon as the coronavirus is over, she’ll come to Israel again. She taught my brother, sister and me that you can do and be whatever you want. I know you’ve been through a rough time, but you can, too” Dima, the oldest daughter, says she wants to be a doctor when she grows up.
“And you can be,” promises Moscovici. “We’ll be waiting for you at Hadassah Hospital.”
Then Aya mentions that among the lessons in Hebrew class she gives on Jewish tradition, she teaches about Hanukkah. “It’s a holiday of miracles. Our family is celebrating its miracles, too.”