For the last six weeks, Deiby Ashkenazi’s only communication has been through the blinking of her eyes or a slight nod of her head.
The 22-year-old Israeli redhead became paralyzed from the neck down while being treated by a doctor on Long Island for Lyme disease, an inflammatory illness spread by ticks. For one month, doctors at Southampton Hospital ran a battery of tests on Deiby to learn the cause of the mysterious paralysis. Her doctor, Joseph Burrascano of East Hampton, said the tests showed that the Lyme disease was "under control," but they were unable to find the cause of the neurological problem.
Her plight galvanized the Jewish community in the Hamptons, which raised money to help the family pay living expenses and provided community support. And UJA-Federationís Long Island Cabinet also pitched in after learning of the situation from a donor.
But when the medical tests proved inconclusive and Deiby’s father, Tuvia, said he had no money to get a second medical opinion, officials of UJA-Federation in New York stepped in.
Misha Galperin, UJA-Federation’s chief operating officer, contacted Dr. Spencer Foreman, president of Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, and asked for his help.
"We can’t always do this, but Montefiore is a UJA-Federation-affiliated hospital and it is community minded," said Galperin. "It’s a major medical center, a foremost teaching hospital affiliated with the Albert Einstein School of Medicine at Yeshiva University. They agreed to do a thorough evaluation."
The test results were not what Ashkenazi had wanted to hear.
"Her condition is not good and they have no diagnosis or treatment,"î he said. "They did an MRI on her brain and it was very bad. They saw a lot of white stuff where the functioning of parts of the body are controlled; it disturbs movement and breathing. … They don’t know what it is. It can be from several diseases, they just don’t know."
With no money left and with no place else to turn, Ashkenazi said he was working with Arthur Katz, chairman of UJA-Federation’s Long Island Cabinet, to arrange for a way to transport his daughter back to Israel. Katz in turn was working with Levi Rosenbuam, president of United Lifeline, a not-for-profit company that helps Israelis obtain medical care in the United States. Katz had called him at the suggestion of Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, executive director of Lubavitch of Long Island.
Rosenbaum told The Jewish Week that he made arrangements to have Deiby and her parents fly to Israel aboard an El Al plane Wednesday evening. He said a special stretcher was being placed aboard the plane and that rows of seats would be removed from a cabin Deiby and her parents would occupy (along with a doctor and a paramedic) during the 11-hour flight.
"She also needs a respirator and oxygen, and she has a stomach feeder and is connected to an IV," said Rosenbaum.
Katz said money for the $15,000 flight was raised in part by Lewis Bernstein, a member of the UJA-Federation Young Leadership Cabinet, and by the Jewish Center of the Hamptons in East Hampton. At the beginning of the week, he said the contributions had totaled about $14,000.
Katz said tax-deductible contributions are still being accepted. They should be directed to him and made out to: Temple Or-Elohim at 18 Tobie Lane, Jericho, N.Y. 11753.
"The father is penniless and we want to give him a few dollars to go home with," said Katz.
Ashkenazi said his daughter is believed to have contracted Lyme disease seven years ago while visiting her grandparents in Bridgeport, Conn. He said Israeli doctors misdiagnosed it for three years and then improperly treated her for another three years. She and her mother flew to the United States last September to be treated by a Lyme disease specialist and were referred to Burrascano.
The cantor of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, Debra Stein-Davidson, said she and members of the community first met Deiby and her mother, Aliza, when they were living in a local motel near Burrascano’s office.
When Deiby was stricken, her father, a self-employed women’s clothier, left the couple’s 17-year-old son and flew to the U.S. The hospital allowed them to remain at their daughterís side around the clock.
"I called every couple of days and brought meals to the hospital for them," said Stein-Davidson, who said she visited the hospital everyday until Ashkenazi arrived from Israel.
As Ashkenazi prepared to leave for Israel, he said the news he had received from the doctors at Montefiore was "not what I wanted to hear, but I know now that I did everything I could."
He paused and then added: "I don’t know how to thank all the people who have helped us. I have no words. I didn’t know that your community was so generous."