Amid war, US pain specialist offers Israel a new spin on rehabilitation

“With so many of our people in pain, I needed to be there on the ground in Israel to help them heal,” said Dr. David Spinner.

Harvey and Gloria Kaylie Rehabilitation Medical Center at ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran. Credit: Courtesy.
Harvey and Gloria Kaylie Rehabilitation Medical Center at ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran. Credit: Courtesy.

When Dr. David Spinner visited Israel for the first time at the age of 10, he fell in love. Even without relatives to visit, the New York City native took numerous trips to Israel over the years, cherishing every opportunity to embrace the land and its people.

And while Israel is always on his mind, he could never have imagined making an emergency visit to the land he loves in the middle of a war to help the Jewish state chart a new course for rehabilitative care, making medical history in the process. Yet that’s exactly what happened.

For two weeks in November, Spinner, a noted pain-management specialist now living in New Rochelle, N.Y., worked with the staff at the Harvey and Gloria Kaylie Rehabilitation Medical Center at ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran in southern Israel to provide relief to war-wounded civilians by performing minimally invasive pain management procedures never previously implemented in Israel.

Known worldwide for empowering children and young adults with severe disabilities, the 40-acre ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran rehabilitation village partnered with the Israeli government and Jewish National Fund-USA to open the Kaylie Rehabilitation Medical Center—the first and only rehabilitation hospital in Israel’s south—in June 2022, offering cutting edge therapeutic and recovery services for anyone touched by disability in its celebrated warm and inclusive environment.

ADI Medical Treatment 1
American pain specialist Dr. David Spinner (right) worked with Dr. Shilo Kramer (left) to perform ultrasound-guided pain-management procedures on war-wounded patients at the Kaylie Rehabilitation Medical Center at ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran, including an Israeli first: the implantation of a Bioventus StimRouter peripheral nerve-stimulation device that helps patients reduce chronic nerve pain. Credit: ADI.

Soon thereafter, Dr. Shilo Kramer, head of Inpatient Care at the Kaylie Rehabilitation Medical Center, invited Spinner to keynote a hands-on ultrasound workshop hosted by the hospital, the first of its kind in the Negev. When the war with Hamas began in October, Spinner “felt a strong need to return to Israel” and immediately reached out to Kramer to see if he could be of service.

“Dr. Spinner called me and said that he wanted to help in any way he could. In fact, he had his heart set on joining the IDF,” recalled Kramer. “When I explained why that wouldn’t be possible, we began discussing how he could use his medical expertise to help ease the pain of citizens in the hardest-hit areas in Israel.”

In the beleaguered Negev, Kramer was eager to enlist Spinner’s skill set, which includes performing ultrasound-guided pain management procedures (he quite literally wrote the book on the topic) and implanting neurostimulators under ultrasound guidance, a minimally invasive technique that artfully sidesteps the need for surgery. Kramer was particularly interested in attempting to use these methods to fix nerve damage caused by gunshot wounds.

“With so many of our people in pain, I needed to be there on the ground in Israel to help them heal,” said Spinner, who ran the pain management department at Mount Sinai Hospital for eight years and now serves as the director of pain management at White Plains Hospital in New York. “Dr. Kramer and I agreed on a plan of action, and I immediately began collecting the tools we would need to make it a reality.”

Those tools included 10 Bioventus StimRouter kits for peripheral nerve stimulation (priced at $7,000 per kit) and Sonosite PX ultrasound machines (the most advanced models on the market), care of DCS Medical’s Israeli distributor Ofer Dvir.

After Dr. Itzhak Siev-Ner, medical director at the Kaylie Rehabilitation Medical Center, secured a temporary wartime medical license for Spinner and approval from the Ministry of Health to implant the peripheral nerve stimulators, Spinner packed his bags with the high-tech gear and headed straight to ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran, located just 12 miles from the Gaza border.

ADI Medical Treatment 3
Rabbi Shahar Butzhak, the spiritual leader of the religious community in Ofakim, who was wounded protecting his community from Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7, receives physical therapy at the Kaylie Rehabilitation Medical Center at ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran. Credit: ADI.

‘Immediate relief, better options for continued care’

With a mastery of the musculoskeletal system and his top-of-the-line ultrasound equipment, Spinner consulted on dozens of patients, including many Ofakim residents who had sustained bullet wounds on Oct. 7. In one case, the ultrasound examination revealed that a patient who had been shot in the forearm and was being treated for the injury to one nerve had actually suffered a second nerve injury that required immediate attention.

“In addition to treating war-wounded civilians, I also helped assess several cases where patients transferred from elsewhere were told that their pain emanated from one source when it was caused by a different injury entirely or fallout from a surgery,” said Spinner. “Thanks to the ultrasound technology at our disposal, we were able to provide the patients with immediate relief and better options for continued care.”

With a shared passion for improving their patients’ quality of life, Spinner and Kramer were especially gratified by a procedure they conducted to provide relief to a patient named Moshe Sasson, who was suffering from shoulder pain post-stroke.

Moshe’s case became an issue of great concern to the Medical Center staff when the physical therapists were unable to work on his shoulder due to abnormally severe pain. Utilizing the Bioventus StimRouter for the very first time in Israel, Spinner employed electrical impulses to stimulate a nerve in Moshe’s shoulder and block the pain signals, providing Moshe with a reprieve from the pain and allowing the therapists to get back to work on Moshe’s shoulder.

“Sometimes, no amount of medicine can help our patients, and we need to think outside the box,” said Kramer. “Using electrical impulses doesn’t stop the pain, but it reduces the amount of stimulation that the brain receives from the injured nerve and gives us our best chance at healing the patient.”

When asked to reflect on his time living and working at ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran, Spinner highlighted the village’s inclusive and communal approach to care, saying that “only Israelis would think to build an entire community for people with disabilities and in need of rehabilitation. The pastoral environment, having those living with and touched by disabilities sharing the same resources—the framework and its execution are brilliant.”

“Top hospitals in the U.S. have the best specialists and incredible innovation, but they don’t answer the ‘what’s next?’ question, and they certainly don’t cater to children,” he said. “The ADI model speaks to an entirely different vision of rehabilitation in which the whole family is not only considered but embraced by an entire community for the long term. There is no other place in the world that addresses this multifaceted, multi-generational need.”

Kramer was quick to counter by praising Spinner for both his medical prowess and extreme generosity.

“I am proud to know that there are caring individuals around the world who want to use their talents and skills to give back to their people, and I feel very blessed that we are able to tap into this goodness to help our patients,” said Kramer.

“I have one patient who told me that he was praying for the right person to come and relieve his excruciating pain, and then Spinner appeared from across the globe! There are no words to express our gratitude, but thankfully it’s just the beginning of our collaborations with Dr. Spinner.”

In the months ahead, ADI plans to bring Spinner back to the Negev and secure a permanent medical license for him so that he can teach his techniques to the doctors at the Kaylie Rehabilitation Medical Center and other hospitals to ensure the very best care for Israel’s thousands of war-wounded soldiers and civilians.

While he physically returned to his family and his work following his life-altering trip in November, he feels as though “his heart and mind are still in Israel with his patients.”

“By its very nature and culture, Israel is a country that breeds citizens with a desire and a special ability to help one another—where you know that your neighbors will always have your back and come to your rescue,” he said. “I have always loved Israel, but now that I’ve experienced this communal benevolence on a whole new level, there’s truly nowhere else I’d rather be.” 

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ADI (pronounced ah-dee) is the Hebrew word for a radiant and multifaceted jewel, a name that reflects our expansive vision and broad scope of activities, including disability care, rehabilitation, research, employment, education, community services and tikkun olam. It also speaks to the importance and great value of our mission to care for the most precious members of our society—those who cannot care for themselves. Understanding that all individuals deserve the best available care and every possible opportunity to reach their greatest potential, ADI provides comprehensive rehabilitative solutions for children, adolescents and adults with severe disabilities and complex medical conditions and pioneers cutting-edge therapeutic and recovery services for anyone touched by disability, all in a dignified, warm and loving atmosphere.
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