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Episode 28: Yehuda Ben-Yishay (1933-2021)

In this episode of Brain Injury Insider, host Michael V. Kaplen says goodbye to his friend Yehuda Ben-Yishay who sadly passed away last week aged 88, and reflects on Yehuda’s incredible life and pioneering work in the treatment of traumatic brain injury.

Today, I would like to say goodbye to an old friend, neuropsychologist, Dr. Yehuda Ben-Yishay.

Yehuda, to all who have had the pleasure of knowing him, was my friend and mentor for over 40 years. His depth and breadth of understanding, and compassion for those living with a brain injury was unmatched.

Yehuda was truly a pioneer in traumaticbrain injury rehabilitation. He recognized long before most that successful recovery following any type of brain injury depends on the individual being willing to accept that they are now a new
and different person.

In 1973, following the Yom Kippur War between Israel and its neighbors, Yehuda went to Israel to assist brain injured soldiers who developed traumatic brain injuries in the tank battles over the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. He developed a holistic recovery program. His successful program assisted those with mild, moderate, and severe brain damage, restoring them to meaningful and productive lives.

With his experience in Israel, he returned to New York, and in 1978 he developed the NYU Rusk Holistic Day program.

In a featured article in the New York Times magazine, he summed up his mission by stating:

“The rehabilitation of injured individuals is a clinical, creative endeavor. Can you really say how this blob of jello creates all this wonderful feeling and thinking, no. The question really is, can you reconstruct Humpty Dumpty after he has been shattered to pieces?”

I fondly remember, as president of the Brain Injury Association of New York State, attending many graduation ceremonies for his patients and their families at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in New York City. The journey his patients were able to self describe, and the confidence that they had in themselves following completion of his intensive program, which stressed addressing the survivors emotional state, family and social relationships was eye opening. It was as if these survivors had died and were reborn. Able to accept their limitations, their impairments and find a new happiness.

As Yehuda simply stated, to those who sought his assistance, we respect you, now you start respecting yourself.

Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird said to his daughter:

“If you can learn a simple trick Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

My friend, Yehuda taught me this in my journey of providing legal representation to brain injury survivors.

Yehuda never gave up on anyone. He was a legend in his own time.

His program trained many of the leading neuropsychologists in the United States and perhaps throughout the world. This program has been duplicated by rehab centers throughout the world.

His insight and tenacity has led to better lives for many brain injury survivors who attended his program, and others who have attended similar programs by those he has trained.

Goodbye, my old friend. Your work and spirit lives on.

And may I have the honor and privilege of meeting you again someday.

Audio version

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