Simon Owen's Story

Hello everyone and good evening.

My name is Simon Owen and I'm a nurse in the respiratory rehabilitation unit at Alyn for the past 25 plus years.

For some reason they still haven't fired me yet.

I ended up in Israel and here in Alyn totally by accident.

This comedy of errors begins back in Liverpool England in 1990.

In the UK before starting university many people take a "year out" to volunteer somewhere abroad.

I signed up with a company that organizes this type of thing and made my three choices in order of preference – teaching outdoor pursuits at a youth camp in New Zealand, teaching outdoor pursuits at a youth camp in Canada (I was very into outdoor pursuits at this time….). My third choice was volunteering with Magen David Adom in Israel because there were no more outdoor pursuit options, it's warm in Israel, has good rock climbing and mountain biking so why not? It would never happen anyway.

At the end of 1990, just before we were about to start, we were informed that both of the outdoor pursuit camps had been cancelled and because Saddam Hussein got all shooty-shooty-bang-bang over Kuwait and was lobbing scuds at Israel the MDA couldn't take any foreign volunteers.

We were offered our money back but……., there was this little hospital in Jerusalem that desperately needed volunteers and was willing to insure them so………. Anyone interested?

At the start of 1991 six of us flew to Tel Aviv and arrived at Alyn in the middle of the night to be greeted by the three remaining volunteers (one being physiotherapist Coos Weaver who still hasn't left) and proceeded to spend what was probably the best six months of our lives.

Alyn was a very different place then to how it is today……….. it was not an uncommon sight to see a bunch of volunteers fall out of a taxi at three in the morning followed by a load of wheel chairs, breathing machines and the young adults connected to them after thoroughly good night out in Jerusalem, or 'driving' down to the café's and bars in Ein Karem, standing on the back of the electric wheelchairs to come back up the hill.

Seriously, if Health and Safety existed back then they would have a seizure.

Good friends were made and life was lived to the maximum by one and all.

One of these friends made was my future wife, Valerie. 20 years old with progressive muscular dystrophy, mobile with an electric wheel chair, working for Bezek the phone company and far too mature and sensible to partake in our childish shenanigans, she was living in Alyn and we knew each other in a 'my friends friend" kind of way.

She was one of the people I kept in touch with after returning to England to study electronic engineering at Sheffield University.

Hated every minute of it and promptly changed to nursing.

Having nine months before the nursing course started and having nothing more productive to do with my time I decided to return to Alyn for another stint of volunteering.

Much falling out of taxi's ensued.

By this time Valerie had moved to a more independent living residence in Jerusalem. We became close friends over the months and, by the end of my second time in Alyn, had decided to marry after I finished my nursing in England.

We were perfectly aware of how difficult for the both of us this would be, the success rate of abled bodied/disabled marriages is not high. Also add to the mix very British/very Moroccan, deteriorating medical condition, Bi-pap ventilation at night – more than enough people pointed this out to us but we both thought "what the heck? If it don't work it don't work, what is there to lose?".


Everything went as expected whilst studying nursing in Sheffield. I was able to fly to Israel once every month or so for weekends and Valerie came to the UK for a few weeks as well.

Then, in the winter of '93 she became very ill with a respiratory infection. Even though I still had another year and a half of studies left we made the decision not to hang around anymore. That summer we married. If anyone has seen the film "My big fat Greek wedding" then I remember it being like that for some reason.

At around this time I also became an Israeli citizen, by accident.

I went to the ministry of interior to update Valerie's identity card and, whilst there, inquired about the "aliah" process for after finishing university, still over a year away.

A form was pushed in front of me and instructions were barked. Thinking it was a request for a nice glossy "so you want to make aliah? Here's what you need to know" pack I did as requested and returned to England.

A few weeks later I got a call from Valerie that there was an envelope from the ministry of interior for me and should she open it?

The information package for "everything you need to know about immigrating" seemed to be missing but there was a temporary I.D. card in my name…….

The most efficiently that the Ministry Of Interior has been known to work ever and exactly at the wrong time – there goes one and a half years of new immigrant rights that we'll never get back.


Towards the end of 1995 I finished my studies and, whilst all my class were throwing their hats in the air at the graduation ceremony I was starting my basic training in the army.

Finished the army and we finally started to live our lives.

The plan was to work as a nurse in Alyn for a year or so whilst we got settled down, finished our apartment and then look for nursing work in my then specialty of adult trauma.

I want to emphasize again that the Alyn of then was very, very different to the Alyn of now. Up until the end of the '90s Alyn was about 2/3rds "home" for disabled children and young adults and 1/3rd regular orthopedic rehabilitation hospital and it was at this time that Alyn started the transition from the "institution" of old to a "serious" medical facility.

Most of my friends moved out and on with their lives just as Valerie had done before. For me and Alyn it was the end of one era but the beginning of something new and special – the founding of the very advanced - in both technology and work ethic, respiratory rehabilitation ward.

Don’t get me wrong, during my time here I worked for other medical providers, paramedic with the M.D.A., freelance work with medical startups and I spent an inordinate amount of time in the army over the years.

I enjoy it all but never enough to leave Alyn.

Since day one there has always been something here to keep me interested, a new project, a new responsibility, a new course to study, a new ward improvement, a new problem to solve, a new research paper to write, new technology to introduce. It is literally without end, you can always find something new to do or try here.

I quickly learned that I like "doing", tinkering, teaching, solving, 'day dreaming', inventing…… and Alyn is the kind of place that allows this – encourages this, not just for nurses but all the disciplines – physio, OT, speech therapy, everyone. My unit is gifted with two truly great doctors – Eliazer Beeri and Nitai Frankel both of whom relish the challenge of solving problems and are not afraid to 'think outside of the box', we work brilliantly together.

Alyn is quite unlike any other hospital I know of both here and abroad and the resp unit honestly is a world leader in its field.

Every other patient or parent on my unit needs some kind of solution found to a 'problem', be it medical or technical.

Only a few weeks ago I had a patient who for years and at huge expense has been trying to get the correct method of nocturnal ventilation via face mask with no luck, all the time his physical and mental state deteriating. His nurse came with him to the unit and over the course of 24 hours we found a mask that fitted and ventilated him well. It was an unorthodox solution – an old design of nose mask but over his mouth and plugs to block his nose, but in Alyn we can find innovative solutions in ways others don’t seem to be able to, be it due to institutional mentality or….

funding…… and this is where I want to thank each and every one of you. It is your generosity, your hard work that allows me, us to do these truly life changing things and push forwards the realm of resp rehab.

Again, it is you who make this possible for hundreds of families every year and we are all truly thankful.

Thank you all.