Ariel’s Checklist is dedicated to Ariel Newman, of blessed memory – a caring and compassionate “gentle giant,” who was our only child. Ariel died tragically on September 10, 2014 at 18 years old.
Ariel had been on a supervised hike in the Judean desert with other young men. The hike was part of an overall educational experience when he collapsed due to exertional heat stroke.
The circumstances surrounding his death are particularly distressing and heart-wrenching given that Ariel’s death was preventable. Ariel did not die of an underlying heart defect or other congenital anomaly. There were no drugs or alcohol involved.
He died because the people leading the hike did not recognize the risk factors of heat-related illnesses or the signs and symptoms of an extreme heat crisis.
When Ariel arrived at the hospital, his internal temperature had reached around 109.4° F/43°C. Although doctors spent over an hour trying to revive him, Ariel succumbed to severe heat distress.
As his parents, words can never fully express our loss. We know only that, in an effort to bear our sorrow, we feel compelled to educate others about heat-related illnesses. We hope that no one else ever dies this way and no other family loses a loved one under such circumstances.
After years of trying to conceive, we were blessed with the arrival of Ariel on May 6, 1996. From the age of 14 months on, Ariel grew up in Great Neck, New York, surrounded by a supportive Jewish community and us, his doting parents.
Ariel was particularly close to his father, with whom he shared many of the same interests, and the two were best friends. We love to recall how much Ariel enjoyed the park right outside our front door and the many family vacations.
Ariel was laid back, curious, adventurous, and kind. He was over 6 feet tall, big, and very strong but always gentle.
He never got angry, even when people teased him. He was a role model in that he never spoke badly of anyone. He loved to read endlessly, particularly superhero comic books and fantasy books like the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. His father taught him the game Dungeons & Dragons and Ariel became an excellent “Dungeon Master.” He had an inner wisdom far beyond his years and was calm when others were not. He gave his parents the highest respect and understood complex subjects very quickly. He was the best traveling companion and was always easy-going. Simply put, he was an extraordinary individual.
By the time he graduated from Yeshiva University High School for Boys (MTA) in June of 2014, Ariel knew he wanted to spend some time in Israel before heading off to college.
He had already been accepted into the State University of New York at Binghamton, but chose to enroll in a nine-month educational program held in Israel. His plan was to enter college in the fall of 2015.
We heard about a program near Efrat that consisted of half a day of yeshivah learning and half a day of hiking, getting to know the land, and being involved in chessed projects. It was a very small yeshivah and sounded like the perfect fit for our son.
On September 3, 2014, when Ariel arrived in Israel, he was excited to begin his cultural journey into our family’s heritage.
He was there just about a week before embarking on a hike in the Judean Desert along with others enrolled in the program. The hike took place from September 9-10.
Although the first day of the hike was very hot, the hikers walked under waterfalls, which offered considerable relief. That night, there were many biting bugs bothering the young men, which kept them awake until nearly dawn.
On the second day, the 10th, the group continued hiking at 8:00 a.m. Over the course of the morning, the temperature quickly heated up, eventually reaching 98° F.
After six hours of being on the rigorous desert and mountainous trails, the hikers were exhausted; with no relief from the heat, they were encouraged to press on. At 2:00 in the afternoon, Ariel collapsed. He could not be revived.
Heat Takes a Toll
After our son’s death, we looked for answers and explanations. We searched the Internet and found some startling information:
We learned that there is a difference between exertional heat stroke and regular heat stroke. This happens when your body is working too hard and produces more heat than it can dissipate. Your body temperature keeps climbing. Although water can help hydrate you, it doesn’t always lower your core body temperature.
We also found story after story of people seeking medical treatment for heat-related illnesses or, worse, dying from those illnesses — an Israeli soldier who died during a training exercise, marathon runners who died, 200 yeshivah students hiking near Mt. Carmel who became sick — too many stories.
Ariel’s Checklist became our way of dealing with the loss of our son. We feel strongly that no parent should ever have to lose a child to something that can so easily be prevented.
– Mark and Ellen Newman
Creating the Checklist
Education is the key to prevention of heat-related illnesses. Although Ariel’s Checklist provides details about hiking safely in desert heat, everyone can benefit from these guidelines.
We have all heard stories about young men who died during high school football practice or professional athletes who participated in an organized event and became ill.
But even people who head out in hot weather simply to enjoy a picnic, a day of fishing, a charity race, or a casual day of hiking or playing sports are susceptible to heat illnesses.
And let’s not forget about the people who don’t choose to be outside when it’s hot but are paid to work outside because of their jobs, like farm workers, construction workers, and utility workers.
Heat-related illnesses can happen to anyone, quite unexpectedly, even to those who are exceptionally fit and have trained extensively.
There are ten key points in Ariel’s Checklist. Ariel, unfortunately, suffered from every single one on his fatal two-day hike. It is important to note that not any one risk factor is likely to cause serious heat-related illness. It is the degree of the risk factor(s) and the interplay between how many risk factors are being simultaneously violated that can cause heat exhaustion or heat stroke.