Unprecedented Medical Miracle: 1st ALS Patient to be Cured is Mir Rosh Yeshiva

Unprecedented Medical Miracle: 1st ALS Patient to be Cured is Mir Rosh Yeshiva

Charedi rabbis don’t usually show up on the cover of Yediot Achronot, Israel’s #1 secular newspaper, but the unprecedented miracle that happened this month to Mir Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Rafoel Shmuelevitz landed him on the cover of Yediot this morning. Rabbi Shmuelevitz is the first ALS patient in history to be cured from this previously non-treatable and devastating illness.

The following post is a translated excerpt from the Yediot Achronot article “It’s a Miracle, I am a New Person” by Akiva Novick and Sarit Rosenblum

What took place this past month at Hadassah Hospital’s Department of Neurology was not expected even by the most senior neurologists.

An ALS patient- a chronic disease with no known cure that causes a slow and painful process of muscular dystrophy- who was wheelchair-bound and had difficulty speaking and breathing, underwent an complete turnaround. From being handicapped and dependent on others for his most basic daily needs, suddenly Rabbi Rafoel Shmuelevitz stood on his feet, and returned to teaching at the flagship Mir Yeshiva, which he heads.

The treatment that is responsible, it appears, for the dramatic improvement in his condition was developed by the Israeli biotechnology company Brainstorm, and is based on stem cells. This is the first time that someone who has been treated with stem cells has regained abilities which were previously lost. Despite the great caution that is guiding the doctors as they discuss the rabbi’s condition, it is difficult to ignore the excitement which surrounds even the most stern of staff members when they talk about the turnaround that the rabbi has experienced…

Rabbi Rafoel Shmuelevitz recalls, “I couldn’t talk. It was difficult for me to breathe, and my lack of balance made it impossible to get up from my wheelchair. Even when they supported me I was able to walk only with difficulty. My students couldn’t understand me when I spoke.”…

In 2010, after a series of tests at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic, his doctors told him the difficult news, Rabbi Shmuelevitz had ALS [also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease], which is considered the most severe known neuromuscular disease. ALS patients gradually lose all of their motor abilities, until they eventually lose their ability to breathe and die from suffocation. The vast majority of patients die within three to five years following diagnosis. A small number of patients, for example physicist Stephen Hawking, manage to survive for years, but are almost unable to function.

“The American doctors and the Israeli doctor who treats me, Professor Menachem Sade of Wolfson Hospital, agreed that the only possible way to improve my condition would be to receive stem cell treatment at Hadassah,” explains the rabbi. “That was my final hope.”

Last May, the Ministry of Health granted approval to the Israeli biotechnology company Brainstorm, specializing in the development of technologies and medications based on stem cells, and the Hadassit company associated with Hadassah Medical Center, to begin a clinical trial of a new treatment based on cell therapy, which is meant to delay or stop the degeneration of nerve cells in ALS patients…This is the first treatment of its kind in history.

Because of the severity of his condition, and the fact that he was suffering from 2 different muscular diseases, the rabbi was not allowed to participate in the clinical trial…However he was given the treatment as a “compassionate treatment,” intended for patients who have no other hope.

A month ago, the rabbi was given the treatment for the first time, and the effect on him was incredible. “A few days after the treatment, my whole life began to change,” he says with a smiling face. “My speech began to improve, it became easier to breathe and I began to walk unassisted. I am even able to climb stairs. My students understand every word I say. It’s truly a miracle from Heaven. I am a new person as a result of the treatment I received.”

“It’s hard to describe the excitement that took hold of us as a result of the amazing results of this treatment,” says Brainstorm president Chaim Leibovitch…

Also the doctors could not remain apathetic to the amazing effect of the treatment on the rabbi’s condition. “The change that occurred in him was huge, and also the objective improvement in his functioning was extremely impressive,” explains one of the hospital’s doctors with excitement. “From being handicapped, a person who couldn’t walk and couldn’t talk, a significant amount of his abilities have returned…There is no doubt that a great drama is taking place here. We need to remember that we are talking about a single isolated case. On the other hand, even isolated reports like this can also signal a medical breakthrough.”

Encouraging results, even if they are on a smaller scale, have also been witnessed among some of the 12 patients participating in the clinical trial…

As is the way of the world, the rabbi and his students see things a little differently [from the doctors]. His students talk about “Mass prayer rallies” and “A miracle.” At the same time that top medical minds were laboring to rehabilitate the rabbi’s systems at the hospital, at the Mir Yeshiva the top minds were constantly reading Psalms for his recovery, and learning pages of gemara in order to “tip the scale” in the upper worlds in favor of the 74-year-old rabbi, who has stood for close to 30 years at the head of one of the largest yeshivot in the world (with over 7000 students).

“The rabbi’s family decided when they started treatment to turn to all of the yeshivot in the world to request assistance,” says the rabbi’s assistant. An emotional plea went out in the name of important rabbis to pray for the rabbi’s recovery, and his full name was released for special “Mee Sheberach” prayers worldwide. When the rabbi was lying on the treatment table at the hospital, thousands of students gathered to read Psalms at the Lakewood Yeshiva in New Jersey, at the Ponevitch Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, and at Jerusalem’s Mir Yeshiva.

“The rabbi saw the announcement that went out with his name and broke out into tears,” his assistant says. “During the two or three days that he was at the hospital, the prayers didn’t stop. After that we returned home, and an extreme improvement began in his condition. He got up and started walking, even without support…Everyone who saw him said that this was a revealed miracle, that this is simply a new human being.”

At this stage, of course, it is still difficult to state whether we are talking about a miracle or just a historic medical breakthrough, which will grant hope to patients suffering from one of the most difficult and cruel diseases that exists. But about one thing nobody is arguing: such a dramatic improvement in such a nearly hopeless situation, has very rarely ever been witnessed in the natural world.

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23 comments

  1. A historic medical breakthrough “IS” a miracle!!!

  2. Hadassah

    Boruch Hashem! This is so fantastic. I love this type of good news. Boruch Rofeh cholim.

  3. I read the article a couple of times and while your headline talks of a cure, the article talks of a dramatic improvement. Do you know that he has been cured from other sources?

    • JewishMom

      it is true that “dramatic improvement” might be a more accurate than “cured” at this point in the research. However, some believe that this will be prove to be the long-awaited cure for ALS hint
      (http://thefutureofthings.com/news/11475/did-an-israeli-company-developed-a-cure-for-als.html?addComment)

      What is so dramatic and unprecedented about the rabbi’s recovery is that never before has the damage of this disease been reversed and undone. Until now (see wikipedia excerpt below) the best that has been achieved by clinical trials is “slowing in the loss of function.” But for functioning to return, and in such unprecedented ways…

      Clinical research

      A number of clinical trials are underway globally for ALS; a comprehensive listing of trials in the US can be found at ClinicalTrials.gov.
      KNS-760704 (Dexpramipexole) is under clinical investigation in ALS patients. It is hoped that the drug will have a neuroprotective effect. It is one enantiomer of pramipexole, which is approved for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and restless legs syndrome.[44] The single-enantiomer preparation is essentially inactive at dopamine receptors, is not dose limited by the potent dopaminergic properties of pramipexole.[45] Results of a Phase II clinical trial conducted by Knopp Neurosciences and involving 102 patients were reported in 2010; the trial found a dose-dependent slowing in loss of function.[46] A larger phase II trial conducted by Biogen found the drug to be safe, well-tolerated, and associated with a dose-dependent slowing in the decline of ALS.[47]
      Talampanel is being tested in ALS by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries; a Phase II trial was completed in April 2010.[48]

  4. My motherinlaw has a roomate at St Louis long-term hospital, a youngish (40??) women who I see has had a husband and children – and is now bedridden, on breathing help and eating help and cant talk and has to point to spelling board to talk – I wonder if she has ALS – I’d like to find out and give her this article – can I be sent it in printable form please?

  5. Someone

    Why is medical breakthrough developed using scientific methodology called a miracle? It is no more a miracle than any other medical or scientific discovery.

    • Yair Spolter

      ‘Someone’,
      Read the last paragraph in the article.

      You are correct, however. Miracle is a loaded term. It implies, to most people, something overtly supernatural, which this is certainly not.

      The point of this article is to understand that something occurred that was medically and scientifically unexpected. It went completely against the odds.

      It happened to a tzaddik, for whom multitudes of people were davening and performing good deeds.

      This should strenghthen our emunah:
      1. In the koach of tefilah
      2. That Hashem is rofeh cholim. It is not natural order that determines the events in our lives, rather Hashem is directly overseeing them.

      Proof to convince a skeptic? No.
      Chizuk for maaminim? Yes.

      • Yehudit

        Jews don’t really make the distinction between everyday sorts of bodily functioning and the miraculous recoveries. As far as we are concerned, its all G-d and all miraculous. We are just used to the everyday sort of functioning (and therefore Judasism may be one of the only religiouns in the world to say a blessing after leaving the bathroom in recognition of all the miracles that go into “simple bodily functions” and to force recognition of what incredible good G-d does for each and every one of us every day whether we deserve it or not). Yes, a medical breakthrough is a miracle. Human intellect and invention is a miracle. That any of it works is a miracle. Miracle just means you recognize the source not that the source isn’t there.

      • Levi Huebner

        Dear Yair Spolter:

        You are mistaken there are basically two kinds of miracles. Nissim derach hateva, miracles of natural means like when the Maccabees defeated the Romans. Or nissim l’mailah min hatevah, miracles which are supernatural like when the menorah which had enough oil for one day burned for 8 days.

        So this was a natural miracle.

  6. Yair Spolter

    Thank you for this wonderful piece.
    I’m copying a comment that I left on another post ( http://jewishmom.com/2012/07/04/a-deaf-mothers-thank-you ) because in a way it really belongs here.
    JewishMom,if you don’t want it here, feel free to delete (not post).

    JewishMom wrote:
    I am writing about this because yesterday I posted an article about Rabbi Rafoel Shmuelevitz and his unprecedented recovery from ALS (which, by the way, turned viral and has been read over 1800 times in the past 24 hours). A friend who read the article challenged me, “It’s great that there was a miracle, Chana Jenny. But why did Hashem have to make him sick in the first place? Was Hashem bad, kivyachol, and then He turned good? That’s what bothers me about all these ‘miracle stories’…”
    This kind of question is out of my league.

    Allow me to provide you and your friend with the answer.

    There is a simple truth that every Jew needs to know:
    Everything that Hashem does is purely good.

    Now, just like a child does not always appreciate that that what a parent does for him is good, we cannot always understand the goodness in our lives’ circumstances. When I limit, scold, or punish my child, he is sure that I am mean or evil. He questions my judgement, thinks that I am unfair and do not care about him. Nevertheless, I – the parent – know that it is for the child’s own good.
    When Hashem brings suffering and pain into someone’s life, it is for a purpose. It is for the person’s good. In truth, the person should be jumping for joy, singing praise, and thanking Hashem for the great gift he has received. But we are human. We don’t like pain. We don’t like suffering. And we are not expected to react with the super-human maturity of seeing the greater good (although great tzaddikim do). When we feel pain, we cry.
    When life is going well, however, we are able to appreciate the good that Hashem is bestowing upon us and we are meant to react accordingly. We express our appreciation for this good by thanking Hashem and singing His praises.
    Why did Hashem have to make him sick in the first place?
    Because that is what he needed. (For his own sake, or for the sake of the Jewish people.) It was the best thing that could have ever happened to him.
    But we don’t celebrate getting sick. We react as human beings.
    When Hashem sends a cure to an illness, however, it is a great cause for celebration. We can feel the good, and we express that feeling. (And many times in hind-sight we can appreciate the suffering we went through as well.)
    One more step – why a miracle?
    A miracle shows that a special kindness was done. Something happened that was out of the ordinary – someone had a special zechus (merit) or special tefillos were said. In return, Hashem does something ‘out of the ordinary’ and brings the salvation in a super-natural way.
    I’m sorry that this comment was so long and I hope that what I wrote is clear. As I said, this is fundamental knowledge that every Jew must have – it should not be out of our league.

    • My young son has been asking these questions. Thanks for stating it clearly.

    • “When I limit, scold, or punish my child, he is sure that I am mean or evil. He questions my judgement, thinks that I am unfair and do not care about him”

      When you limit, scold, or punish your children, what is it that you do? If you’re like most parents, you may make them sit on the naughty step, or spank their bottoms, or send them to their rooms. You don’t reach into their spinal columns and unplug their arms and legs!

      ALS is so cruel, so degrading, dehumanising, and destructive, that it could not possibly be countenanced by a benevolent entity. We may not fully know the mind of Hashem but for our own sakes I hope we can know that much. ALS, if it comes from anywhere, comes from the devil.

      Hashem may have inspired this potential cure, but every fiber in my body tells me he didn’t send the disease in the first place.

  7. Lawrence Kaplan

    Where is the basic Hakarat ha-Tov (gratitude) on the part of the Yeshiva students to the doctors, scientists, and the modern medicine which played such a key role in the Rosh Yeshiva’s unprecedented dramatic improvement? I am speaking here of a basic religious and ethical virtue.

  8. @Yair Spolter, in this comment from another blog, isn’t accusing G-d of bringing on his troubles the same thing that Job did? And didn’t Job get in a whole lot of trouble for it? G-d doesn’t cause us pain and suffering, the world we live in does enough of that. He doesn’t put a hedge around us, Job 1:10, He allows His people to suffer to be tested. According to the Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh anyway.
    And I agree that we ourselves are evidence of miracles. “In an awe inspiring way we are wonderfully made.”

    • Yair Spolter

      Good question, @Carol.
      Job was guilty of doubting G-d’s providence. He said that he did not deserve to suffer, and therefore there is no justice and life is ruled by chance.
      It is true that human suffering is always in response to some type of sin on man’s part, but it is G-d who is causing the suffering. Just as a parent punishes their child to ensure that they will be good and successful, G-d punishes people to ensure that we maximize our lives’ potential.
      This is quite apparent throughout Tanach.

  9. Hi
    Pramipexole causes severe side effects over time and immediately. Vivid, violent dreams is only one or a number of different severe side effects, irritability is another. Please look into this drug before using it \

    May no one ever need it.

  10. Hi! This article is unbelieveable!!! My father was just diagnosed with ALS. Could you please give me more information about how/where to get this treatment. Thank you!!!

    • JewishMom

      you might want to contact Brainstorm, the company mentioned in the article.

  11. This is good news! I am wondering what kind of stem cells were used. Were they from an adult? Were they his own? Were they from a fetus?

  12. Not sure how is this patience right now after these months , no idea about this treatment according many of the other trials has demonstrated the patience can recover the movements and capabilities but after some time this behaviour change and start a new progress of the disease..

  13. My mother has just been diagnosed and progressing quickly. How can I get more information about the same treatment? Please Help!!!! Thank you!!!

  14. Bill Glasser

    My mother had ALS when 81 and died when 84. I understand the debilitating of the disease. I lived with it 24/7 to the day my mother died. For all reading this I am a WW11 survivor. I faced many miracles fighting the Wermacht from the bulge, Nuremberg, Dauchau, Munich, and Bercthesgaden where the war ended, May 8,1945. I went through many miracles all religious people will explain why I lived through these miracles. I don’t question the miracle of the Rabbi only it seems to be a fact. Being an optimist, this may be the answer to a cure for ALS.I look back at what I went through in WW11 and now totally believe I had an angel watching over me. There can be no other explanation in my mind. Only G-d knows the truth, if you believe. I will suggest all reading my comments look into the possibility of this being an answer if they or their loved ones are suffering from this disease. ” When there is life, there is hope! B.G.

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