Does America need its own Schindler’s List?

Every age needs courageous individuals to stand up for those who have no voice. Steven Spielberg’s movie, “Schindler’s List,” made the world aware of the heroic efforts of a German businessman, Oskar Schindler, who saved more than 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust. By placing them on his employment list, Schindler was able to prevent them from being sent to the concentration camps.

Another businessman and Swedish ambassador, Raoul Wallenberg, is celebrated worldwide for his efforts to save up to 100,000 Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary from the Holocaust by issuing protective passports and designating local buildings as Swedish territory in which Jews could be sheltered. At the end of WWII, Ambassador Wallenberg was detained by the Soviet Union and eventually died in a Moscow prison.

Both Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg were designated as Righteous Among The Nations by Israel for their efforts to save Jews during the Holocaust.

One of Raoul Wallenberg’s closest aides was a 22-year-old Romanian Jew named Martin Preisler. Preisler joined the underground resistance group as a teenager in Hungary.  Working closely with Raoul, he smuggled people, food, clothes and medicine while wearing an SS-uniform.  His efforts saved thousands of fellow Jews from the Holocaust.  Martin Preisler is believed to be the last person to see Wallenberg before his imprisonment by the Soviets.


After WWII, Martin Preisler moved to the United States, married Dr. Sylvia Yvette March, and together they raised five children – Shoshanna, Thomas, Daniel, Rebecca and Nicholas.  Upon his death in 2009 at the age of 86, Preisler and his wife had five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Less than a year after his death, Preisler’s family faced a challenge too many American families face.  At the age of 29, the Preislers’ son, Daniel, sustained an anoxic brain injury, and his brain was deprived of oxygen.  Daniel was in perfect physical condition at the time; an athlete all of his life, he never drank or smoked and always ate healthy.  Before his brain injury, he was planning to become a veterinarian.

Dr. Sylvia Preisler was told by the medical experts that Daniel would either die or be in a vegetative state. Due to the state laws, anyone over 21 years of age who has not recovered to full consciousness is ineligible to receive acute rehabilitation treatment. Daniel defied the odds and, without any medical intervention, within a few months began to speak a few words.  However, six months after the injury, Daniel was non-responsive again.

Due to the red tape, Daniel was bounced across the state from one hospital to another to another and, after 15 months, he ended up six hours from the initial hospital.

Throughout this time period, Daniel never received any anti-seizure medications, and not until a full-blown seizure was observed almost a year later did the doctors realize he had been seizing ever since his initial brain injury.

Eventually, Dr. Preisler found a rehab facility in another state willing to admit Daniel.  She transferred him to a nearby nursing home only to be told afterward the rehab facility could not accept him since the transfer took too long.

Now in another state in another nursing home, things continued to get worse for Martin Preisler’s son.  Daniel was assigned a roommate who yelled and screamed 24 hours a day, and after being exposed to this non-stop overstimulation, Daniel had a massive seizure that sent him back to the hospital. Upon discharge from the hospital with explicit instructions for a quiet environment, the nursing home put him back into the same noisy room and within a week he had another massive tonic-clonic seizure. These seizures set him back again from the progress he had been making since being placed on medications.

Dr. Preisler moved Daniel to yet another nursing home in another state with the hopes of improved care and support. She couldn’t even get the nursing home to provide him with Omega-3 vita-nutrients. The current nursing home couldn’t even maintain a normal temperature in Daniel’s room and as the room overheated, it caused more seizures and Daniel headed back to the hospital.

According to Dr. Preisler, “My son has never received the care he should have and I am so appalled there is no care for the brain injured in this country.  Daniel continues to fight every day and as his mom I will continue to fight for him.”

Dr. Nathan Zasler is one of the foremost experts in the United States in the treatment of individuals with brain injuries who have a disorder of consciousness (whether vegetative state or minimally conscious state).  According to Dr. Zasler, “Daniel’s situation is not unique and there are many examples of such cases in our health care system. There is a lack of funding for specialized programs that understand assessment and treatment of these individuals.”

Brain injury is the leading cause of death and disability for American youth. More than 765,000 enter an emergency department every year with a new brain injury, more than 80,000 are hospitalized and more than 11,000 die each year. It is estimated that there may be as many as 15,000 patients in the United States who are in a persistent vegetative state and more than 100,000 others who are in a minimally conscious state. This is one of the reasons the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation established the National Pediatric Acquired Brain Injury Plan (PABI Plan) whose mission is to develop a seamless, standardized, evidence-based system of care for the millions of families that have a child with a brain injury.

Eight years ago this week, America watched as Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was disconnected, resulting in her death.  Another Schindler was thrust into the arena to give a voice for the voiceless. Terri’s brother, Bobby Schindler, continues to fight for the lives of the medically vulnerable and disabled as the executive director of the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network.

As Jews prepare for Passover, Christians observe Easter Week and Persians celebrate Nowruz, perhaps we can spend a few minutes thinking about Martin Preisler’s son, Daniel, and wonder if America needs its own Schindler’s List to protect our most vulnerable population.

What would Martin Preisler think?