The Dead Sea Marathon Miracle

March 5, 2020

6 min read


Israeli paramedic Meir Furmanski found himself in the right place and time to save a man’s life.

Ever since Meir Furmanski’s was a child he dreamed of becoming a paramedic. At the first opportunity, he took a first aid course at aged 16 with Magen David Adom in Jerusalem and began volunteering shifts on ambulances.

“I wasn't doing well in school, and while giving to others I found the positive in myself. Assisting with CPR and births means you grow up very fast mentally. I stopped feeling like a failure and was doing something very meaningful.”

Running into action

With over eight years of experience, Meir has taken part in scores of emergency calls requiring CPR. In February 2019, while competing in a race along the shores of the Dead Sea, Meir unexpectedly saved a man's life.

Shachar David, a father of three from the southern town of Dimona, collapsed mid-race 200 meters ahead of Meir, suffering a heart attack. Beginning CPR almost immediately, Meir saved his life and Shachar made a remarkable recovery. The two men recently ran the race again, this time side by side.

Running was not even my thing

The turn of events that brought Meir to be in just the right place and time to save Shachar left him looking back in amazement, connecting the dots in his life.

“Running was not even my thing,” Meir told, explaining that he first took to running while serving as a combat soldier in the IDF Ammunition Corps.

Meir in the army; running was not on his agenda

“One day during training, my commander announced that he had signed up to run a half marathon (20km) in a few weeks, adding that I would be joining him.” None of the other soldiers in Meir’s unit were singled out for this strange command. “I never did find out why he singled me out, but in the army you are taught not to refuse orders, so I got training.” The longest distance Meir had previously run was just a few kilometers.

Hitting the dirt tracks around his base, he worked hard, building up his stamina, eventually completing the race in a respectable time of 1 hour 45 minutes. 21 years old at the time, Meir has been running competitively since, taking part in half marathons in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Tiberias. The February 2019 Dead Sea race was definitely not in his plans. A few months earlier Meir was involved in a road accident which meant he had to hang up his running shoes.

Recovering from damage to his knee following a collision on his motorbike, Meir had put running on hold while he recovered. Tempting him with epic views while running along the Dead Sea, a friend convinced him to rethink the marathon, and Meir eventually decided to run the shorter 10 km route, not competitively, as a way of getting back into training. “I shouldn’t have been in that race at all, and running at a slower pace meant I was in the perfect place when Shachar collapsed.”

The day of the race

Enjoying a relaxed run, at around 6km, Meir saw a runner fall to the ground 200 meters ahead of him. "When I caught up there were a few other runners trying to help.” With no signs of breathing, Meir quickly ascertained that the man’s heart had stopped.

“I've performed CPR so many times in the past, I knew what to do.” Meir immediately began chest compressions and instructed someone to call for an ambulance which arrived within a few minutes.

Shachar with the staff at Hadassah hospital, days after his heart attack

The crew supported him, applying two sets of shocks with a defibrillator upon which Shachar’s heartbeat returned. “As far as CPR goes, it was exactly by the book. The faster you can start with chest compressions, and keeping oxygen pumping round the body, the more chance you have of bringing a person back and reducing long term damage.” Had Meir been half a minute ahead of Shachar or any longer behind him, the outcome could have been so different.

Within the hour, Shachar was airlifted to the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, while Meir brushed himself down and continued the race. “I finished the race as fast as I could so I could phone and check up on how he was doing.”

Emotional Meeting

After undergoing emergency heart surgery, Meir learned that Shachar was making an excellent recovery. “I wanted to visit as soon as I could. The real joy of bringing a patient back from the brink is in knowing that they can get back to living their life as they had been before.

Meir and Shachar running together at the Dead Sea

“When I saw him sitting up in good spirits, with his wife by his side, I was overcome with emotion. It was incredible to see.”

The two became fast friends, sharing their mutual passion for running and motorbikes.

Aware he had a long recovery ahead, Shachar joked he would need to pull out of another race he was set to run in a few weeks time.” Meir’s response, “In good time, you’ll run again, and I’ll run with you.”

“As I said those words, I don’t think I actually believed them. To return to marathon running after a heart attack is not so common.”

But those words would end up being prophetic. The damage to Shachar’s heart was minimal due to the speed by which Meir had begun CPR. Shachar’s recovery defied the odds and he was able to make huge progress with rehabilitation and physiotherapy and was back to running within months. Throughout this time Shachar and Meir kept in touch over the year, meeting several times. “When I saw how fast and how well Shahar was recovering, I realised that I would actually need to keep my promise.”

Dead Sea 2020

A few weeks ago, Meir and Shachar ran together again on the same track just a year after they had first met. “For us, it was coming full cycle on an incredible journey.”

In the last year, alongside his shifts for Magen David Adom, Meir is studying medicine at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Meir and Shachar have pledged to run the Dead Sea race every year together with a message that anyone with some proper training can save a life.

Next Steps