Back in March, Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar was fighting for his life in the intensive care unit of UHealth Tower, the flagship hospital of the University of Miami Health System. Fortunately, the prayers of his family, friends, and congregation members were answered, and today Lipskar is making a steady recovery from the dangerous COVID-19 viral infection.
“My work puts me in contact with people from all over the world,” said Lipskar, 73, who has been the spiritual leader of the Shul of Bal Harbour in Surfside for 39 years.
“My initial symptom was a high fever, but because of my age I had a high risk of complications. My wife Chani insisted that I get tested for the coronavirus, and the result came back positive a few days later.”
After getting the test results on Saturday, March 14, Lipskar sent an email message to the congregation, and the Shul was immediately closed for cleaning. Other members of the congregation, including Bal Harbour Mayor Gabriel Groisman, began self-isolating to prevent the further spread of the virus.
Following a consultation with his regular physician, Lipskar was admitted to UHealth Tower on Sunday, March 15.
A Lifesaving Decision
“While I didn’t want to go to the hospital, that decision may have saved my life,” he said. “If I had delayed, the damage to my lungs might have been irreversible.”
“Rabbi Lipskar had a severe COVID pneumonia when he was admitted,” said Martin Zak, M.D., an intensivist at UHealth Tower. “We were very concerned because of his age and overall condition. Our team treated him with supplemental oxygen and several medications, while closely monitoring his condition. After several rocky days, he began to improve, and when I rotated out of the ICU, I was confident he would recover.”
During Lipskar’s nine days in the ICU, he received a constant stream of well wishes from his friends, congregants and community leaders. But because COVID-19 is highly contagious, he had to remain in UHealth Tower’s special isolation unit.
“I felt very secure in the hospital, and received first-class medical care,” said Lipskar. “The nurses and doctors were wearing full personal protective equipment. When Dr. Zak came into my room a few days after my admittance, I didn’t recognize him because he was wearing what looked like a space suit.”
Lipskar also appreciated the non-medical support from Lauren Foster, director of concierge services in the Office of Patient Experience at UHealth.
“She made sure that I was able to eat kosher meals during my stay,” he said. “In fact, everyone in the hospital showed a deep personal concern for their COVID patients.”
Recovery and Return Home
After nine days in the ICU, Lipskar was able to return home, where he has been recovering while sheltering in place with his wife. UHealth doctors have continued to monitor his condition via follow-up video appointments and phone consultations.
“For me, COVID-19 left a feeling of complete weakness,” he said. “It drains you of every ounce of strength. It’s taken time, but I’m now on the mend.”
In keeping with public health guidelines, Lipskar has continued to stay home, and the“For the first time in my life, it was just me and Chani celebrating Passover,” Lipskar said. “Normally, we have it in our community with hundreds of people. However, our grandkids have a house behind ours, so we went into the back yard and sang the songs together.”
Lipskar is also grateful that his congregants heeded his warnings about COVID-19.
“I told every person to listen to their doctors, and they took it very seriously,” he said. “As a result, we have not had any serious cases in our community.”
Now, the Shul has shifted to a videoconferencing platform to deliver services and classes to the community.
For the UHealth Tower team, Lipskar set a high standard of patient courage in facing a largely unknown disease in the special intensive care unit. As Dr. Zak said, “We will remember him here.”