Families of terror victims Yaniv brothers, Lucy Dee meet recipients of their corneas

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Six Israelis who have regained their eyesight thanks to the generosity of recent victims of Palestinian terror shootings had a chance to thank the donors’ families in person Sunday.

The parents and siblings of Yagel and Hillel Yaniv met at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva with three of the four individuals who received the murdered brothers’ donated corneas.

Also, Rabbi Leo Dee and his teenage children Tali, Keren and Yehuda met at Hadassah Medical Center with the two recipients of corneas given by the family’s wife and mother Lucy Dee.

Dee was critically injured in a terror attack as she drove with her daughters Maia and Rina in the northern Jordan Valley on April 7. She succumbed to her injuries in hospital three days later. Maia, 20, and Rina, 15, were killed at the scene of the attack. Although Maia carried an organ donor card, which can be signed by people aged 17 and up, the circumstances of her death made it impossible for her organs to be donated.

Hallel Yaniv, 22, and Yagel Yaniv, 20, from the Har Bracha settlement in the northern West Bank, were killed when their car was ambushed as they drove through the nearby Palestinian town of Huwara on February 26.

The brothers carried organ donor cards and their parents Esti and Shalom Yaniv decided to donate their corneas, it was announced on March 8.

Corneas can be stored for 1-2 weeks, and the tissue from one cornea can be used for multiple recipients. Seventy percent of transplants in Israel are performed at Beilinson hospital.

“I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the light that you have lit in my eyes, I thank you for your noble soul and decision to do something so brave that will forever impact my life. I will never forget the gift you gave me,” Ziona Zalzberg told the Yaniv family.

Zalzberg is a 68-year-old woman from Migdal Haemek who loves traveling. However, following damage to her vision, she wasn’t able to travel on her own and felt she was a burden to her family, asking them to help her with everyday tasks. With her new cornea, she is back to being independent.

Esti Yaniv (center) with Annette Buskila, mother of cornea recipient Yitzhak Buskila. They stand in front of a poster of slain brothers and corneal donors Hillel and Yagel Yaniv. Beilinson Hospital, June 18, 2023.(Tamar Cohen)

The other cornea recipients in attendance were Ron Carmeli, a 66-year-old grandfather from Petah Tikva, and Itzhak Buskila, a 42-year-old husband and father of three children from Tirat Carmel. Before the transplant, Buskila had impaired vision in both of his eyes, which made it very hard for him to work in warehouse logistics at a major food distributor. With his new cornea, he can continue providing for his family by continuing with a job he enjoys.

The fourth recipient is Tal Almos, a 44-year-old husband and father of three children from Atlit. He was born with an eye disease and had a cornea transplant years ago. Two years ago, he lost his vision due to an accident.

“We wish for the recipients to see the world from the perspective of good and happiness the way sweet Yagel and Hillel saw it,” said Shalom Yaniv.

“Their big beautiful eyes will continue to light up our world through these four recipients. It gives us hope that even after their passing, they continue to help others.”

Beilinson Hospital chief of ophthalmology Dr. Irit Bahar sits next to a poster of Hillel and Yagel Yaniv, whose donated corneas restored the sight of four Israelis. Beilinson Hospital, June 18, 2023. (Tamar Cohen)

Beilinson’s chief of ophthalmology Dr. Irit Bahar was on hand for the emotional meeting Sunday. Bahar and her colleague Prof. Eytan Livny performed the cornea transplants and have been overseeing the recipient’s recovery.

“It was incredibly emotional being in the room as the Yaniv family met Ziona, Ron and Itzhak, who each expressed their gratitude to the family and to Yagel and Hillel whom they never met but to whom they feel indebted for giving them the gift of sight,” she said.

“The transplant journey is often discussed in the context of the physical recovery process but there is also an important emotional element that comes with it, and it was important for Ziona, Ron and Itzhak to meet with the Yaniv family and share their gratitude in person,” she added.

Emanuel Fabian and Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.

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