WHICH DOCTOR?

Past Articles:
WHICH DOCTOR?

By: David Silverberg And Kelly Jemal Massry



Apex Care Grants the Community Unprecedented Access to the Medical World

            He was professionally trained as a Rabbi, but he now works as a medical consultant.  His business hours are twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, including Shabbat and holidays.  His clientele consists of each and every Jew that treads the earth – man or woman, adult or child, religious or secular, rich or poor.

            His name is Rabbi Eliezer – "Lazer" – Goldwasser, an Israeli-born hasid, and founder and director of the New York-based Apex Care organization.

            It is difficult to capture in a few sentences the vast extent of the organization's work, or to estimate the number of people it has helped and the number of ways in which it has helped them.  Suffice it to say that Rabbi Goldwasser receives an average of 70-90 phone calls each day (!!) from anxious patients eagerly seeking his advice, guidance and assistance, which he consistently provides with skill, sensitivity, selflessness and love.

A Self-Made Medical Expert

            The extraordinary story of Apex Care, formerly known as Refuah V’chesed, began approximately 20 years ago, when Rabbi Goldwasser set out to assist a relative who had contracted a rare illness that physicians could not definitively identify.  Countless hours of independent research through medical texts, as well as extensive consultation with various experts, led the Rabbi to find a specialist in Boston who was able to diagnose and treat the illness.  As time went on, he found himself providing similar assistance to other patients searching for the right doctor or the right hospital.  His growing knowledge of medicine enabled him to speak to physicians on a professional level, and his soft, humble demeanor earned him the trust and friendship of the many dozens of practitioners with whom he consulted.

            Eventually, Rabbi Goldwasser established a vast, international network of specialists spanning the spectrum of the healthcare field.  For any medical issue that arose, he knew precisely with whom to consult to ensure the most reliable, most effective and most immediate treatment.

            Thus, in the spirit of the Rabbinic dictum, "megalgelin zechut al yedei zakai" – "good things are brought about through good people" – a personal initiative undertaken to help an ailing relative evolved into a full-fledged medical consulting network.  Between telephone calls, e-mail correspondence, and personal involvement, Rabbi Goldwasser has helped literally thousands of Jews across the globe in need of medical advice or assistance in securing an appointment.

Navigating the Waters of Healthcare

            In a telephone interview, Rabbi Goldwasser described the difference between Apex and other medical consulting organizations.

            "There are a number of wonderful organizations who offer free medical consultation," he noted, "and we often work in cooperation with these organizations.  They are very professional and do very important work.  What distinguishes Apex Care is the personal involvement throughout the entire process."

            When dealing with complex or urgent medical cases, Rabbi Goldwasser personally accompanies the patient to his appointments in order to provide logistical assistance and emotional support, and to serve as a liaison between the patient and the physician.  He will also frequently visit and call the patients for follow-up support and consultation.

            In addition, Apex Care’s volunteers provide services such as transportation and finding lodging for family members near the hospital where the patient is treated.

            Among the most critical aspects of Rabbi Goldwasser's work is securing appointments on short notice with cutting-edge specialists, who would normally have to be reserved weeks or even months in advance.  In situations requiring emergency procedures, Rabbi Goldwasser taps into his network of medical acquaintances to ensure that the emergency is handled as quickly as possible.

Here’s just one example: A woman recently flew in from Israel in order to consult with a prominent American doctor. Unfortunately, this doctor wasn’t seeing new patients. Rabbi Goldwasser took it upon himself to change his mind. “I said to myself, I have a mission,” the Rabbi remembers. “I have to do it.” The rabbi interrupted the doctor in the middle of clinic and stood before him shaking. The doctor asked him why he was trembling and the Rabbi admitted he was scared – not for himself, but for this woman who’d placed her hope in him. “I know you don’t accept new patients and I’m afraid you’re going to turn me down,” the Rabbi said. “For the sake of this patient, I need you to say yes.” The doctor turned to the Rabbi, saw the sincerity in his eyes and said:  “I can’t say no to such a request – but next time, don’t interrupt me during clinic!”

            Modern communication technology has played a vital role in this aspect of the organization's work, allowing the rabbi to easily connect with and help families in other countries. Often the Rabbi’s expedited services in these locales make the difference between life and death. Rabbi Goldwasser tells the story of a baby born in South America with multiple cardiac problems. “The doctors in that country didn’t give the family much of a choice or much of a chance,” the Rabbi relays. They simply could not perform the proper treatment there and it seemed as if all hope was lost. But then the Rabbi got involved, saying, “Get me a doctor on the line; I will conference with him.” The Rabbi put the South American doctor and the Chief of the Neonatal Unit at Columbia Presbyterian in conversation. The baby was deemed a high-risk transport and flown to the U.S. for care. At the airport, there was an ambulance at the ready, waiting to take the baby to surgery. In this fashion, a two- day old baby was operated on successfully. “Today, this baby is well,” proclaims the Rabbi. “He’s a child in school now. But had he stayed in South America, he probably wouldn’t be.”

            Doctors are not the only people Rabbi Goldwasser has drawn to his cause. Community member Elliot J. Tamir, the Rabbi’s right hand man, has been vitally important to Apex Care and serves as a liaison between him and community members. When Elliot first met the rabbi 20 years ago, he was astounded by the level of personal involvement the rabbi exerted in each situation. “When I witnessed what he was doing for a friend of mine,” says Elliot, “I was blown away by the dedication he had and the amount of work he put into the case. He did not just supply this person, who was stricken with cancer, with the name of a doctor. He enabled the patient to see the doctor when they couldn’t get an appointment and he accompanied the patient and their family to the appointment. He coached them on which questions to ask, he served as a liaison between the doctor and the patient and really helped them navigate the maze that is cancer.”

It was then that Elliot made a decision that would positively affect the health and wellbeing of countless community members. He brought the Rabbi into our realm. “I was so moved by what he was doing, I brought him closer to me,” says Elliot.   Before long, Rabbi Goldwasser’s intervention was making a world of a difference in the care of so many. Our community members were inordinately grateful for this new window of access into the medical world. “The feedback from the community was incredible,” Elliot reflects. “People were just amazed at how quickly they were able to see certain doctors. And they were amazed at his knowledge of medicine as well.”

Magazines like ours were used to alert the community to the Rabbis services and many people called in to get the help they needed. “We were certainly the messengers for many folks who were lost and did not know what to do,” Elliot recalls. Soon the role of middleman became too big for Elliot and he deputized community member Cookie Cohen to the organization’s aid. Cookie quickly joined in becoming a board member. Together the team at Apex Care does what they can to dispel some of the panic that disease brings. Under the auspices of Rabbi Goldwasser, a plan is formed and the best care is secured so that the sick individual has the best possible chance, whatever the circumstances. Because Apex Care is volunteer-based, there’s no overhead. This makes it possible for the organization to release those it helps from financial obligation, so that they can focus on what’s important – getting well.  “We take donations whenever somebody can give, but we don’t require it,” says Elliot. “We help everybody – whoever needs it.”

            The one area in which Rabbi Goldwasser chooses not to involve himself is that of pesak halachah – ruling on complex halachic issues that arise during medical treatment.  Very often, sensitive cases such as end-of-life situations and fertility procedures – to name just two examples – entail difficult questions requiring halachic guidance.  Despite his scholarship, Rabbi Goldwasser humbly urges patients to consult with their personal Rabbi.

            "I never try to pasken [issue a halachic ruling], nor do I force patients to accept my Rabbis' opinions.  Instead, I encourage them to consult with the Rabbi whom they follow.  If they do not have a Rabbi to ask, then I direct them to a knowledgeable halachic authority with expertise in the particular subject at hand."

            Dealing with illness is often like sailing through a stormy sea, battling the elements as one tries to reach safe shores.   The voyager might lose direction, make a wrong turn, and feel helpless and vulnerable.  Rabbi Goldwasser and his team of volunteers work as the "crew" that navigates the ship through the stormy waters of healthcare, helping to lead the patient to his destination as quickly and smoothly as possible.  While obviously the "marine conditions" are controlled by the Almighty Himself, Apex Care helps the patient overcome these obstacles and reach the safe shores of good health as quickly and easily as possible.

A Life of Torah, Hesed, andKiddush Hashem

Rabbi Goldwasser's work has brought him in contact with hundreds of healthcare professionals in several countries, most of whom are not Jewish.  When asked if his intervention ever meets with resentment on the part of doctors, he replied that this very rarely happens.

            "Quite to the contrary," he noted, "the doctors are generally very appreciative of my involvement.  They welcome the opportunity to deal with somebody with whom they can speak on a professional level, and they very much admire my devotion and concern for the patients."

            So much so, in fact, that some physicians have wondered why organizations of this type exist only in the Jewish community.  "Some doctors occasionally tell me that non-Jews should have people doing this kind of work.  It's a tremendous kiddush Hashem [sanctification of G-d's Name].  It certainly brings a great deal of respect for Jews and the Jewish religion."

            In addition to his tireless efforts on behalf of ill patients, Rabbi Goldwasser also continues to devote himself to Torah learning.  He attends a daily shiur at 5:30 AM, and maintains a 90-minute nighttime study session, as well.  Still, he keeps his cell-phone turned on and accessible twenty-four hours a day so he can take emergency calls.

            In the traditional prayer recited on behalf of ill patients, we beseech Gd to grant them refu'at ha'nefesh u're'fu'at ha'guf – "healing of the soul, and healing of the body."  In fulfillment of the Biblical imperative of ve'halachta be'drachav, to follow the Almighty's example, Apex Care works to restore both emotional strength and physical health to those suffering from illness. It does all that is humanly possible to help patients confront and overcome their condition – in the hope that Gd will then intervene and bring health and happiness to all Am Yisrael.

The offices of Apex Care can be reached at 212-245-7002 or at info@apexcareusa.com