Last week United Hatzalah volunteer Eli Almoznino orchestrated a successful search and rescue operation that found three missing people. This is something Almoznino, who heads the organization’s search and rescue unit, is quite used to doing. What is astounding is that Almoznino is a disabled amputee who volunteers as an EMT and head of the unit.
“Each day I wake up and merit being able to save other people’s lives,” Almoznino says. “I feel an incredible sense of satisfaction with what I do—so much so that I can’t put it into words.”
His life was altered five years ago on his way to work, when a woman drove her car into his. “I was working in Be’er Yaakov at the time, and while I was on my way to the office, a woman drove her car into mine,” he recalls. “She was on her phone and not paying attention to what was happening on the road. What I recall from the incident was that I opened my eyes and saw the windshield on my face. There was intense pain all over my body. From the incident I developed complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), otherwise known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), which rendered my right leg unusable. I suffered with the pain ever since, and a few months ago I finally decided to have an amputation done. Since then I’ve been walking on a prosthetic.”
For years Almoznino walked with crutches, but he never let that slow him down. “After I was injured, I realized I could not let this injury keep me from doing what I love, which is helping others,” he says. “I continued to respond to emergencies as an EMT whenever they happened in my area. My crutches slowed me down a bit, but since the amputation I am much faster.”
Now 42, Almoznino lives in Lod and is a father to two children. He rushes out to emergencies with his private car, which was modified to compensate for his disability.
He recalls one incident that was particularly rewarding: “The dispatchers alerted me to an incident in which a baby was choking. I dropped everything and rushed over. I found a baby who was just eight months old, blue and not breathing. I immediately began to treat the child and saw a small piece of food come out of his mouth. The baby began to breathe again and started to cry. That was the greatest sound I have heard in a long time.”
“I won’t say walking or running to an emergency is an easy thing,” Almoznino concludes of his disability. “Walking on a prosthetic leg is not easy at all. But I do it. I can carry a backpack or a medical kit, whatever is needed. I have to persevere because I won’t give up on my dream, which is the most important thing to me, and that is to always help others and be there for them when they have an emergency. Whether that is as an EMT or commanding the search and rescue unit, it is my passion to help others whenever they need help.”
Raphael Poch is the international media spokesperson for United Hatzalah, Israel’s national volunteer EMS organization.