Ori Shaham, Deputy Director of Israel’s Magen David Adom, was finally relaxing on Friday evening in his apartment in Israel. The last two nights he spent in Bulgaria, on the scene of the suicide bus bombing in Burgas. The bomber blew himself up, killing six others. Israel has accused Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants of carrying out Wednesday’s attack. Iran has denied having any involvement.
Shaham said the MDA headquarters were notified of the bombing at 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday. By 11:00 p.m., a team of seven MDA paramedics, five Israeli doctors and other medical professionals from Israeli hospitals arrived in Burgas to check on the Israeli wounded.
“We only saw the bus for a few seconds,” says Shaham. “We went straight to the hospital to check on our wounded. That was the main goal.”
At the hospital, MDA paramedics confirmed that the patients were receiving the treatment they needed. Working in conjunction with Bulgarian medical professionals, he says, they assessed the level of each of the Israeli patients’ wounds and sent information on each patient back to Israeli officials. The MDA team also prepared the wounded to be flown back to Israel the next morning; the patients were flown back at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday.
There were 34 patients in the Burgas hospital. Three more seriously injured had been transferred to a larger medical facility in Sofia.
“When we arrived in the hospital, it was approximately six hours since the explosion. All of the Israelis had been treated. Some had been operated on. The cooperation from the doctors and medical emergency staff in Bulgaria was excellent,” says Shaham. “Because MDA is part of the Red Cross system, the Bulgarian team met us at the airport, got us the supplies we needed. It was just amazing and unprecedented cooperation.”
The smooth recovery, however, did not take away from the pain of the moment. Shaham says the hardest part in one of these situations is the experience of the uninjured family members. Often times, family members are trying to find out about the status of their loved ones. It can take several hours to identify the dead and the wounded, and the pain that is caused in waiting is grueling.
“They want answers and they cannot get them,” says Shaham.
This bombing was no different, he says. In his more than 20 years experience as a paramedic, Shaham has been on the scene of many attacks. The few-seconds look he got of the bus confirmed for him that this was definitely the work of a suicide bomber.
Shaham says it is his job to know – and to react and treat the best – in Israel and in the world. He notes that MDA travels around the world to treat victims in times of crisis, including after the Haiti earthquake and the Japanese tsunami. MDA would likely have assisted in Bulgaria regardless of the Israeli connection. However, in that the attack occurred on an Israeli tourist bus, it was a given that he and his team would be travelling there.
“We went and we helped,” says Shaham. “That’s what we do.”