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All in the Details

The days following the accident were the longest days of our lives, filled with questions that no one could answer

Friday night, July 6, 2018.

My husband and I were hosting 11 guests (back in those pre-Covid days, that was still normal) in our home in London, plus our own two young children, and I had just served the chicken soup when the phone began to ring. And ring. And ring. My husband and I locked eyes across the table, and I knew something was dreadfully wrong. But the incessant ringing eventually stopped, the meal resumed, and I forgot all about it.

Just before dessert there was a knock at the door. In walked my eldest brother, Maurice, his face a ghostly white. He drew me aside and told me that our youngest brother, 26-year-old Daniel, who was vacationing with friends in the Spanish island of Ibiza, had been found face-down in a hotel swimming pool.

“He’s on life support now, Elora,” he told me. “They don’t expect him to survive the night.”

I come from a traditional English family, and although my parents always harbored warm feelings toward Yiddishkeit, and my siblings and I attended Jewish schools, I’m the only one in the family who embraced Jewish observance.

My parents and siblings flew out to Ibiza immediately, while my husband and I followed on Sunday, leaving our children, ages two and a half and ten months, with my in-laws. Behind us on the plane sat a couple of boys who were Jewish but nonobservant, and were on their way to Ibiza to party, like Daniel and his friends. I turned around to these boys and told them about his accident.

“Please, can you pray for him?” I pleaded. “Can you just say the Shema as a merit for his recovery?” They were a little taken aback, but nodded somewhat apprehensively.

Nobody should ever have to see a loved one in the state I found my brother in as he lay unconscious in the hospital. Daniel was tall, broad, and muscular — he worked out regularly — and I couldn’t help but weep upon seeing his hulking frame attached to maybe a hundred tubes, wires, and machines. The doctors had managed to drain the fluid from his lungs, but they said his condition was critical, and they were unsure whether he would live — and if he did, what his life would look like.

The days following the accident were the longest days of our lives, filled with questions that no one could answer. Would Daniel ever regain consciousness? Breathe alone? Open his eyes? Would he be paralyzed? Brain damaged? What on earth had happened to my strong, kind, handsome brother?


We sat with him and prayed. We talked to him and held his limp hands, sang to him, and cried.

A week after the drowning, the hotel where Daniel had been staying released to us the CCTV footage of the incident.

It was my sister Jade who took upon herself the grisly task of viewing the video. After watching it, she reported that Daniel had been sitting alone at the poolside, looking disoriented, and clearly under the influence of alcohol. Feeling hot, he had dipped his feet in the water, and had suddenly started to appear faint. He tried to move away from the water, but instead, his head went down and suddenly he fell headlong into the swimming pool and sank to the bottom.

In the background of the video, a vacationing couple was eating in the hotel restaurant. Several minutes after Daniel went down, the wife — a slight woman — walked past the pool and noticed his body lying at the bottom. She ran to summon the hotel staff, who dragged Daniel from the water, and she immediately started CPR. By this time, Daniel had been underwater for six minutes.

Within three minutes of submersion, most drowning victims are unconscious, and within five minutes the brain begins to suffer from lack of oxygen. Daniel had been sitting under the unrelenting heat of the Mediterranean sun since that morning. He hadn’t eaten a thing all day, but he had drunk a couple of gin-and-tonics by the poolside with his friend. The two were enjoying the sunshine into the early evening, until his friend left for the beach, after which Daniel headed for the pool to cool off.

Fortunately for Daniel, the pool had not been heated. When a person is submerged in water, the brain begins to overheat, but Daniel’s brain was protected by the cold of the water.

After ten minutes of CPR, Daniel’s pulse was found. At that point, he was rushed by ambulance to the nearest hospital. In the ambulance he went into cardiac arrest, but the paramedics managed to resuscitate him yet again. Upon reaching the ICU he suffered a second heart attack and was revived a third time, after which he was placed on life support. His middle name, Chai, now took on enormous significance, as we wondered whether he had any chance at survival.

My parents and sister didn’t leave Daniel’s side for three long weeks, while I was torn between his bedside and my babies, who still needed their mother. During the weeks he was in Ibiza, I flew out twice to visit him, and when I was home, my day job became organizing Tehillim. Life was somehow still going on, and each day I waited anxiously for updates and reports on Daniel’s progress, after which I sent out my own posts with pleas for prayers.

Today he has fever and possibly pneumonia as a result of the water that accumulated in his lungs. They are keeping him heavily sedated to help him fight the infection. B”H his brain scans still show no sign of permanent damage, although we will not know conclusively until he wakes up. Today is a mixed bag. I know there will be days like today. I know that the same Hashem that yesterday strengthened his heart has willed that today he would develop fever. Tehillim tonight, guys.

Daniel was not expected to live, and with each bit of progress he made the doctors in Ibiza more amazed. They referred to him as “milagro,” Spanish for “miracle,” and would come to look at him in disbelief.

B”H DANIEL CHAI OPENED HIS EYES TEN MINS AGO AND SMILED AT MY PARENTS!!!! He’s so heavily drugged up so he was in a daze, rolling his eyes trying to focus and has all these tubes coming out of him and his mouth etc. but he’s there, he knew it was them!!! He is sedated again as he still needs to be in a coma and some organs are still not working at all (still on life support) but I cannot begin to tell you this feeling of genuine elation beyond anything I have ever experienced… Please continue praying. We are together seeing open miracles & there is a long road ahead.

The moment I heard that he woke up, intubated but aware of my parents’ presence, I cried with an overwhelming gratitude beyond anything I have ever experienced.

He’s breathing alone with an oxygen mask. B”H. The words won’t come so easily here, because the gratitude I’m feeling is giving me a false sense that everything is ok. But I am begging you to keep praying because he is still on life support, kidneys aren’t working, and in a coma. So whilst it might feel like Dayenu for me right now that he’s breathing alone… he’s sedated in an ICU because he drowned. He doesn’t even know what happened to him yet. Keep davening. Keep circulating his name. Please.

The most humbling part of our real-life nightmare was the support of the Jewish community. There was never a time I picked up my phone without someone having messaged asking about Daniel, or about me. The frum community — to which I am a relative newcomer — organized Tehillim, shiurim, and challah bakes as a zechus for him, took his name to rabbanim and kivrei tzaddikim far and wide, lit Shabbos candles early or lit an extra candle for him. They cried with me and fed my family when I was away, and sent food and toys on Erev Shabbos throughout the ordeal. Never before did I feel such a sense of achdus, belonging, and pride to be a part of such a wonderful community.

I feel like you are carrying us all. Your messages of love and support are carrying my family through this hideous whirlwind. Keep davening, keep praying, he’s fighting so much and his neshamah feels the pull of tefillos to stay and recover and come back to us as he was.

On July 15, ten days after his drowning, Daniel came out of the coma. Gradually, he regained consciousness, his organs started to work, and the tubes came out one by one. On July 20, he was moved out of the ICU, and five days later he was flown by air ambulance to a London hospital.

The word “gratitude” is beginning to feel redundant with the amount I’ve used it B”H… I spent this afternoon with my brother at the hospital, talking, laughing, and crying with him. He is infinitely more aware than he was in Ibiza, in fact he doesn’t even remember seeing me last week. He doesn’t remember much before yesterday’s plane journey but I showed him photos we took and he asked me questions. It was bizarre and amazing and surreal to tell him my version of events and felt emotions resurface from that night. He is still confused and not entirely lucid.

Defying all odds, Daniel slowly recovered, coming off dialysis and regaining mobility and memory, although he still has no recollection of the drowning.

Initially, we had no idea who the woman who had administered CPR to Daniel was. She had no idea who Daniel was, either, but she left her name and email address at the hotel’s front desk after he was whisked away by ambulance. Once Daniel was no longer in a critical state, we began to wonder about the identity of the angel who had saved him, and when we inquired at the hotel, they provided us with her contact information.

It turned out that her name was Valerie Kellett, and she “happened” to be a nurse. Not just a regular nurse, mind you, but a resuscitation specialist at the Sheffield Children’s Hospital who travels the world teaching resuscitation. Valerie is married to a doctor, and while she was performing CPR on Daniel — who was cold and blue — her husband, who had been eating with her in the restaurant near the pool, pronounced him dead. Nevertheless, Valerie persisted in performing CPR.

Months after the accident, I took the train to Sheffield to meet Valerie and thank her personally for saving my brother. I found her to be incredibly humble and self-effacing, as she insisted that her actions hadn’t been in any way remarkable.

“I did what any person would do,” she said. “Thank G-d I was there.”

Today, two years after Daniel almost drowned, he has completely recovered, against all odds. He is back to himself in every way, except that he is committed to living a healthy lifestyle and avoiding alcohol and other mind-altering substances.

Daniel and the rest of my family were never religious, and they therefore do not view his miraculous salvation as a religiously awakening experience. Yet I feel strongly that I can’t let this miracle go by without it changing me.

As a baalas teshuvah, I used to have trouble reading Hebrew, and I remember feeling jealous of people who could fly through pages of Tehillim while I struggled with each word. But when Daniel’s life was hanging in the balance, I instinctively embraced my Sefer Tehillim as a way of connecting to Hashem deeply and pouring out to Him my turbulent emotions, with the help of Dovid Hamelech’s impassioned and stirring expressions. Suddenly, Tehillim became my best friend; whether I was sitting in traffic, waiting in a doctor’s office, or rocking my baby, I would find solace in its timeless words. Within weeks, not only was I able to read these words fluently, but I was even able to murmur them by heart. The poetic words I had previously stumbled over started coming to life, and became so much more than just words.

During the weeks and months of Daniel’s recovery, I organized so many Tehillim gatherings that I became the de facto address for Tehillim booklets for people who wanted to hold their own Tehillim gatherings. Eventually, I established an official Tehillim gemach, lending out my multiple copies of Tehillim mechulak to anyone who needed them.

In the past I would never have dreamed of organizing Tehillim meetings, much less urging people — some of them total strangers, like the two boys behind me on the plane to Ibiza — to pray. Nor would I have dared to reach out to people I barely know, or are significantly older than me, to tell them that I was davening for their loved ones. But after seeing how much it meant to me and my family that others in the community were praying for Daniel, I started making a point of letting people know that I’m davening for their sick relatives. Although my parents are nonobservant, they deeply appreciated that the people in my community rallied around us in our time of distress, and we all took note of who showed up for us when the chips were down.

To me, Daniel’s miraculous survival is a thunderous testimony to Hashem’s involvement in our lives and His orchestration of even the tiniest details. What are the chances that of all the billions of people in the world, the one person who spotted Daniel drowning in the pool would be a person who has devoted her life to practicing and teaching resuscitation?

Never before did I feel the hand of Hashem with such an intense certainty, and that feeling has changed me forever. So often, we don’t sense Hashem’s presence or understand the workings of the world around us, so we stumble and search and feel lost in this often-overwhelming experience we call life. Yet as I have learned from my brother the “milagro,” our job is simply to ensure that the details of our actions align with His will, and to turn to Him to take care of the rest. —


To have your story retold by C. Saphir, e-mail a brief synopsis to

lifelines@mishpacha.com or call +1.718.686.9339 extension 87204 and leave a message. Details will be changed to assure confidentiality.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 835)

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