By Ariel Grossman, NoCamels -
For Israel Defense Forces soldiers wounded during the ongoing war with the Hamas terror group in Gaza, a new battle has begun: one in which they must learn to navigate through life with the wounds they have sustained – both physical and psychological.
Restart, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of Israel’s wounded veterans, has shifted its operations and is now doing its utmost to support those troops through their rehabilitation process in hospitals around the country.
The non-profit is run almost entirely by volunteers who are also wounded veterans. It is best known for its annual Makers for Heroes program, which recruits teams of volunteers to design and produce innovative solutions to the specific needs of the vets.
Hundreds of Restart volunteers are visiting the soldiers in hospital to understand the unique problems that they face and create tailor-made solutions for them, some in just a matter of days.
Thousands of Israeli soldiers have been fighting to end Hamas’ grip on Gaza after its terrorists stormed across the border on October 7, killing 1,200 people and abducting more than 200 others.
“This is an unprecedented event in Israel’s history whose scope and intensity is different from anything we’ve ever seen,” Restart CEO Noam Dadon tells NoCamels.
“So we decided to concentrate on the soldiers’ needs – here and now.”
Restart has essentially fast-tracked the Makers for Heroes program, setting up stands in hospitals that include scanners, 3D printers and textiles. Its Israeli partners, which include defense technology company Rafael (which builds the Iron Dome missile defense system) and 3D printing giant Stratasys, are assisting the organizations in creating these solutions.
The organization has already helped dozens of wounded soldiers. Among them is a fighter from the IDF Nahal Brigade who was frustrated after being wounded in both arms and could no longer use his phone without aid. Restart volunteers made him a phone stand that helps him to send texts and answer calls independently.
Another soldier struggled to hold small objects after he was wounded in both hands and sustained damage to his motor function. Restart volunteers created a glove with pockets that can hold toothbrushes, forks and other utensils, making it easier for him to handle them.
“Any need that arises, our volunteers [try to] solve on the spot,” says Dadon.
Some solutions created for the wounded soldiers were originally unveiled at last July’s Makers for Heroes event. These include a one-handed PlayStation controller, which was originally designed for former Restart CEO Niv Efron after he was wounded in Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas.
Dadon says that Restart has created a similar initiative for soldiers undergoing rehab for serious limb wounds at Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s largest hospital. Many of them, he explains, just want to disconnect and play video games with their friends, but no longer can.
Therefore, Restart is working with Rafael to tailor multiple PlayStation controllers for the soldiers. Every controller is being adapted a little differently to suit the individual wounds sustained by each soldier, such as the fighter who can no longer move his thumb.
And in two weeks, Restart will hold a gaming competition in the hospital’s rehabilitation wing for the wounded soldiers – and each will be able to participate with their own personalized controller.
“It’s a break from their intense rehabilitation,” says Dadon. “But it’s so much more than just a game. Being able to sit and play with their friends makes them feel like things are almost back to normal.”
Another innovation in use is a clip containing a magnet to hold a pair of crutches together so that their user does not have to lay one on the floor in order to free up a hand.
Restart has made 200 of these clips since the war began. According to Dadon, many soldiers sustained complicated limb injuries and they will need crutches as they recover.
The volunteers are not only creating one-of-a-kind solutions. As wounded veterans themselves, they offer understanding, empathy and even a shoulder to lean on for the soldiers – and their loved ones – as they undergo intense rehabilitation and adjust to their new lives.
One Restart volunteer who lost a leg during the 1982 Lebanon War acts as an unofficial mentor for three recent amputees. Dadon says that the three turn to him before and after every medical procedure they undergo.
Dadon, who also sustained a serious leg injury during the 2014 war, had a similar experience during his own lengthy rehabilitation.
“When I was hospitalized, many people came to visit me,” he says. “But there’s one person I remember in particular: wounded former soldier Avichai, who told me that he sustained a knee injury like to my own, and was eventually able to walk again.
“He was that bright spot amidst all of the uncertainty around the start of my rehabilitation.”
And now, Dadon says, Restart is trying to give the same support to the newly wounded soldiers, assigning them someone from the organization who underwent a similar experience, recovered and is now living a full life. They are serving as a bright spot, just as Avichai was for him.
“But this is only the beginning,” Dadon says. “In the coming weeks, we will have bigger and even more impactful projects.”
Indeed, the organization has also created a mobile sewing station, retrofitting a bus for volunteers who are handy with a needle to visit military bases, where they mend uniforms and equipment.
“They worked for about 14 hours yesterday,” says Dadon. “The soldiers loved it.”
To donate to Restart, click here.