PHOTOS: VitalOne Defies the Odds, Saving Vacationer’s life with Emergency Medevac from Cuba to Miami

vBy: Shoshana Bernstein. Professionalism, medical expertise and timeliness were all in high gear this past weekend as VitalOne defied the odds and executed a politically and logistically complicated emergency Medevac from Havana, Cuba to Miami.

It is safe to say that when Mrs. X left Israel for her much anticipated family getaway in Cuba she never envisioned returning by way of an elaborate airborne ICU taking up the entire first class cabin of El Al airlines.

The 70 year old woman’s vacation took an unexpected and potentially deadly turn when she collapsed Thursday morning in the lobby of her Cuban hotel. The victim of a sudden stroke, she was rushed to Cuba’s severely substandard hospital where it was determined that she had suffered an intracranial hemorrhage.

“I got the call Friday morning,” explains Isaac Leider, dubbed Rabbi 911™ for his world-renowned success in dealing with air medical transports.  “There was no way the patient was going to survive in a Cuban hospital.  The logistics for the 60 minute flight from Havana to Miami are always complicated. This time the complications were tenfold.”

Due to the holiday weekend, there was no one available to sign off on the necessary permits which would allow VitalOne to send an ICU jet to land in Cuba. Furthermore, assuming the Cuban airport handler could be reached and the permits secured, there were no beds available at any tertiary care (top medical) facility in Miami. Without an ICU bed assignment, the medical parole visa would not be approved.

No challenge is too great for the VitalOne team. They began reaching out to their high level contacts, amongst them a ‘black card carrying’ philanthropist, who requested anonymity. With just one call to the CEO of Baptist Hospital in Miami, a bed was procured.

But the challenges kept coming. For inexplicable reasons, Cuban immigration officials put a 24 hour hold on granting permission for the VitalOne jet to land and pick up the patient. Isaac contacted the Israeli Foreign Ministry Situation Room but needed someone in the United States with the ability to secure the permit to land. Enter Mr. Michael Wildes, Esq.; a well known immigration attorney and former federal prosecutor.

“I’ve worked with Isaac Leider on many occasions.  When I see Rabbi 911™ on my caller ID, I know it is a matter of life or death,” explained Mr. Wildes, who returned my call while on vacation in Mexico.  “VitalOne was facing a bureaucratic glitch and with no one available to countermand this order, there was a good chance the patient would not live.”

Michael Wildes, former mayor of Englewood, New Jersey and a 23 year veteran of Hatzalah, spent the next several hours working the phones well into Friday night, along with Isaac, to save this Jewish woman’s life. A board member of NORPAC (a political action committee working to improve Unites States and Israel relations) he reached out to Dr. Ben Chouake, the President of the organization, who in turn contacted Senator Menendez’ Chief of Staff, whom he has known for twenty years.

Mr. Wildes credits Isaac, who he dubs ‘an angel’ with doing a great job of smoothing the way, arranging for an available bed, collecting the proof needed for a medical parole visa, verifying that the patient would not become a medical charge in the Unites States and a burden to the taxpayers (traveler’s insurance is covering 100%), and securing the written assurances that there was no other medically mandated option to save this woman’s life.

The situations was further complicated since the patient is Israeli, and Israel has no diplomatic relationship with Cuba.   Mr. Wildes reached out to United States Congressman Ed Royce of California who serves as the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman Royce jumped into action; personally making calls to various State Department officials to help secure the permits.

“This was a truly heartwarming instance of partisan efforts. These are busy politicians who stepped in and used their time and contacts to affect a positive outcome. Everyone appreciated the fact that we were Observant Jews, nonetheless on the phones on Shabbos, committed to saving a life. VitalOne leads by example and I tip my hat to everyone who helped make this Medevac possible.”

By Shabbos morning, permission was granted and a bed waiting in the Miami hospital. The ICU jet landed in Cuba with a medical team and all the equipment necessary to safely fly the patient, at sea level, to Miami.  Seventy-two hours later, thanks to life-saving surgical intervention, VitalOne was once again on the scene, flying her via air ambulance to Newark Airport where they had turned the entire first class cabin of an El Al flight into a completely retrofitted airborne ICU.

VitalOne was able to repatriate the patient where she will receive further care from Professor Zvi Ram at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center. Thanks to VitalOne’s experience and know-how, they were able — with G-d’s help and the dedicated assistance of the various people involved– to get this patient the emergency medical care she needed to survive, all at no cost to the family; VitalOne procured insurance coverage for everything.

Proving once again how fitting the name VitalOne is for a team of medical transport experts that is considered the number one choice of doctors around the world, when vital air transport is needed to save a life.

Author’s note: VitalOne maintains the importance of choosing your vacation spot with a potential medical crisis in mind. At the very least, make sure your insurance provides for medical transport and/or purchase additional insurance when you book your flight. You never know.


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  1. Rabbi Leider is an amazing person! Anyone that has dealt with him knows that he can pull off the most difficult jobs. This is an amazing story. Keep up the great work. I personally have a close friend who Rabbi Leider was involved with directly saving his fathers life.

  2. Michael & Isaac you are two amazing guys, saying that Isaac is a Lev Tov is under estimated – Klal Yisroel needs people like you who are willing to do anything in the world to help anyone, with any chasbon on return, no money, no publicity, what so ever. reading this story I was even more amazed seeing Michael Wildes name in the same article, Michael Wildes is the most famous and biggest Immigration Law firm in the united states known as Wildes & Weinberg, Michael’s good heart to help anyone is just something I wouldn’t be able to write down on a paper for no return what so ever. Knowing Michael and Isaac for over a decade, and seeing them working to save the life of this women, I was thinking to myself that it must be that she did something great in her life to have the zchus to have them both on board, and she should have a full recovery soon be”h. Michael & Isaac I can only wish you that Hashem should help you Happy & Healthy years with your Wives and Families AMV”S

  3. While this report may seem extraordinary the details of this heroic effort come as little surprise. Having worked closely with R. Leider over many years, his commitment and diligence have been highly effective in numerous cases such as the one described. Even though my practice is thousands of miles from his home ops base we have referred patients to him as a matter of preference.

  4. I’m impressed. Love to see frum people involved in this kind of work. I’ve heard a lot about vitalone and the amazing work they do, especially Rabbi Leider. I saw them at a recent medical conference and have put their luggage tag on my suitcase. Not traveling anywhere in the world without knowing vitalone is behind me!

  5. I am so amazed that such selfless people exist. I have never heard of vital one. Hopefully no one should need it but it’s good to know. Yasher koach

  6. Isaac leider is a walking kiddish hashem having been woken more then once by him to help him with arrangements I can attest to his expertise and his unstoppable unflappable personality the word can’t or no isn’t in his vocabulary
    Kol hakovod

  7. I have a family member that was transported with Vitalone that was very sick and had to be taken by a private airplane. Everything from the initial communication, till the last moment with the crew was professional, compassionate and caring. I can only vouch from experience, and if I needed, wouldn’t hesitate to call Isaac Leider again. Thank you for everything you do. There aren’t too many people out there like you. Thank you again for what you do.

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