July 1, 2021
A True Account of Adversity and Hope
As told to Yael Dorfman
If the year 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that life can change in an instant.
For me, it began with a bang; I discovered that I was expecting my sixth child just as the world was turned
upside down by COVID-19.
There was no time to focus on my blessed condition—even when I visited the doctor and he was unable
to detect a heartbeat. Though he reassured me that it was normal at my early stage, the appointment
planted the first tiny seed of doubt that everything would be all right.
As the months progressed, the uncertainty increased. We traversed a rocky road that zigzagged from
“everything looks fine” to “there’s something very wrong with your baby” and back again. I endured high
blood pressure through lockdowns and endless weeks of “homeschooling.” When I shared my challenges
with a neighbor, she suggested that I call Chai Lifeline, an idea that I immediately rejected.
As my due date drew closer, we suddenly and devastatingly lost my sister-in-law to COVID. We all
davened fervently for a healthy baby who would bring joy and nechamah to our family.
Hashem had other plans.
Baby Chaim was delivered via emergency C-section; he was whisked off to the NICU for assessment and
pronounced healthy and whole, to our enormous relief. All that worry for nothing!
When Chaim was brought back to me, I noticed that his lips were tinged blue. Later, he refused to eat,
gagging constantly. The nurse brushed me off, the doctors weren’t making rounds, and the only one who
paid attention was the social worker who was called after I repeatedly expressed my concerns.
Fortunately, my husband was allowed to stay…but he wasn’t allowed to leave. I knew that the house was
falling apart in our absence, coming on the heels of weeks of bed rest. After 24 hours, I’d had enough. I
was ready to go home, pick up the pieces, and put my family back together.
As soon as we walked through the door, though, I realized that we were totally out of our league. The
house was a wreck, the kids were bouncing off the walls, I was in terrible pain, and the baby wasn’t
breathing right. We’d never felt so overwhelmed, so unsure of where to turn.
To our horror, Chaim suffered a seizure several days later and was rushed to the nearest hospital. My
husband and I took turns staying glued to his crib during his weeklong stay. The seizures were attributed
to low blood sugar; he was given supplements and unceremoniously sent home. His weight loss, feeding
difficulties, and bluish pallor were disregarded, and he started having seizures again shortly thereafter.
When you’re a parent of several children, life is a balancing act in which you try to get everyone’s
conflicting needs met. When one experiences a crisis, everyone else’s needs are inevitably shunted
aside. But how can a mother ignore the terror and deprivation of her children—and manage her own guilt
and heartbreak—when crisis mode is the new norm?
It was a dark time for our family. We were alone, intimidated, adrift, with nobody to reassure us, guide us,
or take care of us. Our children suffered; we were falling apart without even realizing the extent of it.
The intense emotions we experienced were indescribable. There was nonstop guilt: How can we continue
abandoning the children at a moment’s notice, taking advantage of family and neighbors, neglecting the
kids’ needs, depriving them of their formerly present parents? There was uncertainty and confusion: If we
can’t trust these doctors, whom can we trust? There was pain and fear: Will our baby ever be okay? And
there was despondency: Why won’t anybody help us?
Salvation came from an unexpected source.
My sister took the initiative to call Chai Lifeline. She gave me Rabbi Yehoshua Brodsky’s phone number
and told me that he was waiting for my call. At first, I was adamantly opposed: we weren’t a Chai Lifeline
case! Wisely, she responded, “Just call. The worst that can happen is that he won’t be able to help you.”
That phone call was life changing.
As it turns out, we are indeed a Chai Lifeline family. Our previous belief that Chai Lifeline is only for
families with cancer was quickly disproven.
With the Chai Lifeline team at our side, our lives transformed instantaneously. We were fast-tracked to the
right doctor and transferred to CHOP, where Chaim was conclusively diagnosed with a rare chronic
Life with Chaim is a roller coaster. His needs are complex and erratic. He has undergone numerous
procedures and sees more than 20 doctors—specialists for virtually every part of his body—with his care
overseen by our extraordinarily devoted pediatrician, Dr. Lapidus, who has enabled us to keep Chaim in
our “home hospital” whenever possible.
Our daily schedule changes from one minute to the next. There are countless times when we drop
everything and dash to CHOP at a moment’s notice; sometimes we’re rushed there by ambulance, with
no idea if we’ll be there for hours, days, or weeks. But throughout it all, we’ve never again fallen into the
darkness and despair of his first few weeks of life, the scrambling for some semblance of normalcy, the
all-consuming terror and vulnerability of not knowing where to turn.
Being a Chai Lifeline family has never meant that Chai Lifeline has taken over running our family. On the
contrary; they’ve fit themselves so seamlessly into our family that we’ve never felt stifled or intimidated.
When there’s a crisis—and there are many—we can handle it with confidence and composure, knowing
that Chai Lifeline will take care of everything and meet (and exceed) our usual standards.
We owe everything to the incredible people of Chai Lifeline, from the secretaries who field our calls with
ceaseless patience to the handpicked “big siblings” who’ve bonded with our children to the drivers who
check in if we miss a couple of days. Every cog in the well-oiled Chai Lifeline machine collaborates to
makes our lives as easy and comfortable as possible, leaving no detail overlooked.
The engineer of that machine is Rabbi Brodsky, our case manager. He taught us—and continues to teach
us—everything we need to know, from how to talk to our children about Chaim’s medical issues to how to
talk to the doctors. He is our advocate, our cheerleader, our bastion of strength. He is devoted to us as if
we are his only case, as if our problems are the only ones that matter, admonishing us if we fail to update
him in the middle of the night because he was “up all night worrying.”
The staff at Chai Lifeline show us the true meaning of chessed. They intuit our needs before we even
know we have them, taking care of everything—and then some—with zero fanfare. And throughout it all,
they make us feel as if we’re doing them a favor!
The impact that Chai Lifeline has made on our family is too profound, too extensive to condense into pithy
examples. It’s in the smallest details, the non-earth-shattering minutiae that we don’t strictly need but
make us feel spoiled: the meal coordinator who insists on accommodating our food preferences, clean
cars on Erev Pesach, elaborate fruit platters for Shabbos. Of course, that’s in tandem with the bigger
details: last-minute errands, no-warning car pools, evening-routine help, rides to and from the hospital at
all hours of the day and night, on-the-fly respite.
The contrast between life before Chai Lifeline and life today is staggering. Before, we wallowed in
loneliness and despair whenever we were in the hospital; today, we’re greeted by familiar, reassuring
smiles and a fully stocked pantry. Before, our children drifted, confused and afraid; today, they’re all
smiles as they return from an outing, clamoring for “hospital treats.” Before, we were lost in the turmoil of
medical jargon; today, we have access to a massive network of resources. Before, we were torn between
our children, unsure of who needed us more; today, we have Rabbi Brodsky, with his infinite wisdom, to
counsel us through difficult decisions.
When our world crumbled around us, Chai Lifeline was there to restore it, filling even the tiniest cracks to
fortify our foundation with love, courage, strength, and hope.
A one-of-a-kind organization
By Chaim’s siblings
To a special organization, one of a kind,
Whose motto is “No family left behind,”
Chai Lifeline, orchestrated by Rabbi Sruli Fried,
With his humble demeanor, showing the lead.
Fortunate are we to have Rabbi Brodsky at our sides,
With his legendary kavod habrios and lev tov he guides.
Insightful wisdom and heartfelt empathy he displays,
Carrying us through the most difficult days.
Chai Lifeline, as befits your name,
Keeping families together is your aim.
Always making sure things go right,
Providing emotional support day or night.
To all the special people who tirelessly coordinate,
Your dedication is truly top rate.
From the depths of our hearts, thank you we say
May Hakadosh Baruch Hu bentch you in every which way!
Image 346: A Chai Lifeline volunteer delivering supper and toys for the children on a challenging day
Meals.tif: An assortment