Community rallies behind toddler after freak accident

  • blatt
On 19 April, three-year-old Raphi Blatt was living happily under lockdown, surrounded by family and exploring his environment, when the unthinkable happened. Now, the Jewish community in South Africa and globally is rallying behind this little boy as he recovers from brain surgery after a freak accident.
by TALI FEINBERG | Apr 30, 2020

His father, Eddy Blatt, 41, describes the split second their world changed forever. “At the time, Raphi was nowhere near adults cutting wood, but in the flash of a second, he managed to sneak under the table and lift his head into the electric saw that they were using. It all happened so fast.”

Eddy is married to Leeat, 33, and they live with their extended family in Johannesburg. “We are, please G-d, expecting our second child in July,” he says. He emphasises that what happened to Raphi was a “freak accident”, and there is absolutely no reason to assign blame or consider any negligence.

“Raphi is a very independent, adventurous little boy. Just before the accident, he was outside playing in view of the adults who were doing jobs around the house. We have a large family, and there is always someone watching him.” Then, the accident happened.

“The minute we heard the commotion, Leeat and I ran to his aid. I applied pressure on the wound, and held his scalp together with my hands until Hatzolah arrived. Raphi was still conscious.

“Hatzolah arrived quickly, and acted immediately. The paramedics stabilised Raphi in the ambulance. If it weren’t for them, Raphi wouldn’t have had a chance of survival. We can’t repay Hatzolah,” says Eddy.

Leeat continues the story. “The decision was made to go to the Netcare Union Hospital in Alberton, which is one of two first-level hospitals in Johannesburg that could handle the injury. We had to enter the hospital separately to Raphi as we had to be screened and sanitised due to the coronavirus. The Hatzolah paramedic promised not to leave our son’s side.

“Once we got to the emergency unit, we were told that only one parent was permitted to enter. We decided that Eddy would enter as I’m pregnant and at higher risk of catching the coronavirus. The trauma surgeon sent Raphi for a CT scan. On assessing the injury, we were told that Raphi would require immediate neurosurgery. The incident occurred at about 16:00, and Raphi was taken into surgery at about 18:30.”

Raphi needed to have a craniotomy “as there was dirt, wood, and fragments of skull that needed to be removed from the wound. Initially we were told that the surgery would take about an hour. After the first hour, the anaesthetist came out of the theatre to tell us that they would need an additional two hours. This wasn’t because there were any complications, but because the severity of the injury was greater than expected, and they needed more time.”

“Not knowing if your child will make it out of surgery, and in what kind of state, is terrifying,” says Eddy. “We were filled with breathless fear and helplessness. We were advised not to wait inside the hospital as they were expecting a large number of coronavirus patients, so we waited in the car, but went in regularly to check for updates. The doctors and nurses were very compassionate.”

The surgery was successful, but the couple were told they couldn’t visit their son in the intensive care unit because of the coronavirus crisis. “I haven’t seen Raphi since his admission, which at the time of sharing this has already been 10 days,” says Leeat.

“Initially, when we were told we couldn’t visit Raphi, we were okay with it as he was already in an induced coma and ventilated, and all his brain needed was rest,” says Eddy. “But the minute they started to wake him on 23 April, we felt that we needed to be there for him. We asked for special permission to see him, and they granted me a short visit of 15 minutes. He was asleep when I arrived, and although he cried in my arms on hearing my voice, he didn’t open his eyes. He was still in a very fragile state, and on a lot of medication.”

In this terrifying time, the community has rallied around the family. “It has come together to support us at a time when we have needed it most,” says Eddy. “Every single gesture, from the shortest message to the grandest offering, as well as tzedakah [charity] in Raphi’s merit, has completely blown us away. We cannot begin to express our gratitude and appreciation.” Leeat would particularly like to thank everyone who baked challah for Raphi, while Eddy was blown away by a “virtual amen party” held in honour of Raphi’s refuah sheleimah (recovery).

Eddy says many miracles have occurred. “The injury could have been worse. The time it took for the ambulance to arrive; the fast action of Hatzolah; the trauma surgeon that we landed up with; the fact that Raphi didn’t lose consciousness; the fact that there were no complications during the neurosurgery; that he didn’t suffer secondary injury to the brain after the neurosurgery; and his progress to date, are all miracles.”

Eddy has given continuous updates on Facebook. “While Raphi was having his CT scan, I felt I had no option other than to reach out for as many prayers as possible,” he says. “I wrote a message to pray for Raphi, and I wasn’t quite sure where the journey would take us. But since Raphi was a baby, I have been sending a “Shabbat Shalom” message with a picture of Raphi to friends and family around the world. I felt that although many people hadn’t met Raphi, many of them had watched him grow due to the Shabbas messages, and even from afar, they would have had a subconscious connection to him.

“So, when the messages and prayers started to pour in, I felt that there was a massive community that had a vested interest in his recovery, and I had to let them know how he was doing.”

At the time of this interview, on 28 April, Raphi is still in the intensive-care unit and on a naso-gastric tube. “He was recently taken off oxygen. He still has some steps to go before they can move him out of ICU,” says Eddy.

“In terms of the injury to his brain, his right frontal lobe was injured in the accident. This affects the left side of the body,” says Leeat. “Today, we watched him miraculously lift both his arms above his head. He struggles to sit upright or hold his head up due to weakness in the left side of his neck, and general movement is difficult. Walking can’t be assessed yet. We know that recovery will take a long time.”

Says Eddy, “Before a person judges someone for an accident that has occurred at their hands, they should take a moment to consider the burden that Hashem has given that person to bear, and ask themselves whether they are invincible. The truth is that no-one knows what the next moment holds, and anything could happen to anyone at any time.

“Although Raphi has made steady progress in his recovery, it’s still too soon to tell what the long-term effects of his injury will be, if any. For this reason, we’d like to ask the community to continue praying for our little boy, and may Hashem bless Raphael Meir ben Leeat with a speedy refuah sheleimah.”

8 Comments

  1. 8 Glenda Sheridan 30 Apr
    My heart goes out to you guys & to the poor soul holding the tool who must also be devastated. Our thoughts & prayers are with you all & May little Raphi be back in ur arms soon. Much love Glenda Sheridan
  2. 7 Barbara Berman 30 Apr
    How does one get in touch with Eddy and Leeat to send them messages of strength and encouragement?
  3. 6 hagit levenberg 30 Apr
    Its such a miracle.  He is in our thoughts and prays for a full and speedy recovery every single day.   
  4. 5 Gita Spiller 30 Apr
    Leon and I continue to pray for darling Raphie and for you, Leeat and Eddy.

    You are all very brave.

    Refuah Shleima to Raphael.
  5. 4 jill lazard 01 May
    prayers for raphi to make a great recovery ack to normal life
  6. 3 Paula Seligman 02 May
    Wishing Raphi a refuah sh’laymah and strength to his dear family.
    Best wishes
    Paula.
  7. 2 Lauren W 04 May
    I received a message that was put out on our minyan’s what’s app chat to daven for a 3 year old that had been in a freak accident in SA.  Im not usually too good at davening for people I don’t know but somehow this grabbed me and I have included Raphi in Refa’anu every day that I daven.   After a while, I checked in with the individual who posted to update the status.  He checked in with his source and said, keep davening!  Today I read this story and 2 things come up.  1: first and foremost my heart goes out to this family 2: and a long distance away, I feel grateful to have been one small part of the Raphi team.  May he continue to have a complete recovery and bring joy and happiness to his family and the entire nation of Israel 
  8. 1 Michael Cutler 06 May
    May Raphi have a speedy recovery, a speedy refuah sheleimah. My heart goes out to Raphi and his family for all good wishes for his return to good health to 120 years. Amein. I will keep Raphi in my prayers. May Hashem bless him and his family.

    With loving wishes, Michael Cutler - Aventura, Florida USA

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