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Nathaniel Felber's Rehabilitation and First Smile Since the Attack

December 12, 2019 | by Adam Ross

The US-born Israeli soldier is making great strides in his rehabilitation since the terrorist attack last year, but it is a long and arduous process.

In December 2018, Nathaniel Felber, a soldier serving in the Nahal Haredi combat battalion was left with a near-fatal head injury after being shot by a Palestinian terrorist while guarding a civilian bus stop. Two other soldiers, Yovel MorYosef and Yossi Cohen, both from Nathaniel’s unit, were killed in the attack.

When the first call was made to alert the emergency services, Nathaniel was unresponsive. Paramedics, doctors and nurses fought to save his life and stabilize his condition.

Netanel with his mother Judi after he joined the army

Nathaniel was moved from a hospital in Jerusalem to the Tel Hashomer specialist rehabilitation unit in February to start the long and arduous process of rehabilitation.

His mother Judi spoke to about her son’s marathon fight to recovery and the progress which continues to give family, friends and medical teams great encouragement.

Fighting Back

“Rehabilitation in general is hard work and neurology recovery is even more challenging because it is very slow. Nathaniel has been working hard and we are seeing amazing improvements.”

He is now able to sometimes identify family members and friends, and has reclaimed some movements, such as raising his left hand and tossing a ball. With the help of therapists he has also begun to communicate, answering very simple questions by pointing to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ signs on the table attached to his wheelchair.

Nathaniel with a soldier at a Sukkot party.

“He was right-handed and has lost movement there and is learning to write with his left hand. He isn’t always responsive, but the times that he is give us great encouragement. We hold on to the tiny improvements.”

Along with Nathaniel's improvements, there have also been many complications. “He has had to fight back infections and he still has some more surgeries to go through in the future."

First smile since the attack

For Judi, the biggest breakthrough came a few months ago at a party organized by Rav Uzi Hovav, the head of the yeshiva where Nathaniel had learned prior to beginning his army service.

“Nathaniel was in the middle of the circle of dancing being pushed around by his caregiver. While everyone was singing and dancing around him, his caregiver suddenly motioned to me. Nathaniel was smiling for the first time since the attack. His right side doesn't work so well, so it was a half smile, but his bright white teeth were there and his lips were curled upward. I can’t express how great it was for me to see this.

“That event was so successful that another party was held during Sukkot, at the army base where Nathaniel served. There was an amazing atmosphere of singing and dancing with his army friends as well as yeshiva friends all coming together. Eeveryone had a good time, including Nathaniel.”

A few weeks ago he smiled again when close friends visited. “As soon as they started to sing, he had a big smile on his face which stayed there the entire time they were in his room.”

Shabbat at the hospital

Immediately following the attack, Nathaniel's parents, Judi and Joe Felber, maintained a permanent presence in the Jerusalem hospital where he was being treated. Since moving to a rehabilitation unit closer to home, they drive every day for visits. On Shabbat and holidays they stay in a small hotel on the hospital campus with Nathaniel’s brother, Daniel, and sister, Adina, often joining.

“Rav Uzi also regularly arranges visits from yeshiva students, and some of Nathanial’s close friends sometimes stay for Shabbat. They sing and share words of Torah which helps make a special and festive atmosphere. Nathaniel likes that.”

Last month, Nathaniel joined his family as they celebrated his sister’s marriage to her fiancé Moshe.

“My brother will be at my wedding,” Adina Felber told Israeli media in the weeks following the attack. “Even if I have to get married in the hospital.”

Not only did Nathaniel come to the wedding, he also came to the henna ceremony (pre-wedding celebration) the week before. At the wedding, Nathaniel gave thumbs up signs and raised his hand to greet people who came over to see him.

Judi and Joe Felber walk Adina to the chuppah

Judi added, "Adina had been told that on the day of her wedding, a bride has a special direct line to God so at the wedding. Under the chuppah, Adina said a special blessing for health for Nathaniel. It was very moving and emotional. I tried not to cry.”

Nathaniel was also able to join the traditional sheva brachot celebrations during the Shabbat following the wedding. This was the first night that he slept outside of a hospital since the attack.

"It was challenging to coordinate being away from the hospital, especially with all of Nathaniel's special and unique needs, but with help from friends and his carers, it was successful."

Appreciating ‘the moment’

“I look back to where I was on December 12," Judi said, "the day before the attack, and it’s not the same place at all. This year has been such a roller coaster of emotions. But I’ve made wonderful friends. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve seen the goodness in people that I had no idea, and met so many new people too who have been so kind. There were guests at the wedding I didn’t know a year ago.

“There are a few things I have learned along the way. The first is that doctors can only do so much. My father, of blessed memory, used to call it the 'practice' of medicine. So much comes down to the love, support and prayers of Nathaniel’s friends and family and to his hard work in trying to recover. Of course, only God knows what the future holds.”

“I have also learned to appreciate the moment far more. To think about what’s happening right now, and really focus on what’s important. Sometimes it seems that Nathaniel is not improving at all, and then I look at where he was just a month ago and I can't believe how much he has improved.”

God willing, Nathaniel continues to improve. The Felbers need to think about Nathaniel's future and where he will live after he leaves the rehabilitation facility. “He will need a lot of care, it's not going to be easy, and he will continue to work with specialists for the rest of his life. We have lots of help from friends and family, as well as many experts, who have been so incredibly helpful and supportive. So I know with God’s help we'll manage.”

Later this month Nathaniel will undergo further surgery. The Felber family asks for continued prayers for Netanel Ilan ben Shayna Tzipora to have a complete and speedy recovery.

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