Son’s loss guides family on heat safety mission

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After their son Ariel died two years ago from exertional heat stroke suffered while hiking in Israel, Mark and Ellen Newman set out to improve heat safety procedures across the world.

The result was Ariel’s Checklist, a 10-point guideline on how hikers and those performing physical activities in hot temperatures can better protect themselves.

“I want Ariel’s name to go on and the actions of his soul to go on through saving the lives of others,” Mark Newman said. “He doesn’t have a body to be the vehicle, so we are now his vehicle.”

After graduating from Yeshiva University High School for Boys in June 2014, the 18-year-old Ariel set off for a nine-month educational program at Mechinat Yeud in Israel on Sept. 3, 2014.

Ellen said the program serves students through educational and religious studies, as well as with physical activities like hiking and traveling through the country.

“It was a very small program so we thought this would be nice and he wouldn’t fall through the cracks,” she said. “There would be a sense of camaraderie and he would really feel like a part of the group of young men.”

But while hiking in the Judaean Desert on Sept. 10, 2014, Ariel collapsed from exertional heat stroke. He died later that day in an Israeli hospital.

Mark said when they learned of their son’s death, he and his wife headed to Israel to find out what caused his death.

After speaking with the head of the hospital’s trauma unit, he said, they believed his son died from a heat stroke rather than a separate health issue.

“When we came back we said, ‘what can we do? Our son died,’” Ellen said. “How do we make his life have some meaning? What is our purpose now?”

A family friend, she said, suggested the Newmans contact the Korey Stringer Institute, a research center at the University of Connecticut that aims to prevent death in sports through health and safety initiatives.

The institute is named after former National Football League offensive lineman, Korey Stringer, who, in 2001, suffered exertional heat stroke during preseason training camp and died.

After speaking with Dr. Robert Huggins from KSI, Mark said, he was determined to create a method of informing the public on how heat safety can be improved.

He said he decided on a detailed checklist that used simple terms so all people, not just academics, could understand the heat stroke prevention procedures.

“Mark worked on it like it was a PhD paper,” Ellen said.

She added that they wanted to speak with heat stroke professionals to back the claims Mark made in Ariel’s Checklist.

“We felt it wasn’t enough for two grieving parents to come up with this list,” she said. “This really has to be grounded in real science.”

The list includes detailed steps to preventing exertional heat stroke such as hydration, heat acclimation, ample sleep prior to physical activity, preparedness for medical emergencies and more.

Mark said the list has been vetted by both Huggins and KSI professor Douglas Casa, as well as Yoram Epstein, an Israeli professor who, he said, is a leading exertional heat stroke expert in the world.

“Nothing alone on this checklist, except in ridiculous extremes, is going to harm you to the point of hospitalization,” Mark said. “But if you have a multiplicity of factors to dangerous degrees, then you’re virtually guaranteed hospitalization and/or death.”

He added that KSI has posted Ariel’s Checklist on its website even though its main focus is on sports safety.

“They realized they could include hiking and expand their realm,” Mark said.

While they want to see change enacted in heat safety procedures all over, the Newmans said they expect opposition to stricter safety procedures on tour guides in both Israel and America.

“We’re going to have a lot of push back,” Ellen said. “It’s going to be very painful to hear people say ‘don’t change our rules.’”

“Nobody wants change,” Mark added.

Despite possible opposition, the Newmans said they will continue to push their efforts and spread Ariel’s Checklist to as many people as they can possibly reach.

“The bottom line still is, we want this to get to as many people as possible to save other lives,” Mark said. “That’s the real goal.”

“This is not about trying to scare people from Israel,” he added. “It is about trying to make it safe to help encourage more people to go.”

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