I was born and raised in Israel to a family who were basically founders of the state. My parents were in the precursor to the modern Israeli army; they were both combatants and my mother was a medic, so I was exposed to the effects of stress and trauma from a very young age.
I’ve been through two wars myself, the first as a young 21-year-old lieutenant in the Yom Kippur War in 1973, where I fought alongside friends and colleagues and where I was eventually injured. The war changed my life in so many ways. It was a tragic event and I lost my best friends, but the experience also contributed to the way I look at my life: From a very young age, I valued the opportunity I’d been given to live, to enjoy life, and to maximize my contribution to humanity.
After 9/11, Columbia University Medical Center invited me to join its Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Program in the department of psychiatry. It was an opportunity to follow what I’d felt was my destiny from an early age, because of my experience in war. I never had PTSD, but I wanted to help those who were not able to recover or live a normal life after their military experience. What I carry with me, in addition to the horror and the fear of war, is an understanding of what patients are going through and a commitment to their treatment.
Many people with PTSD are constantly on alert; they see the world as a dangerous place. In our laboratory at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, we use innovative neuroimaging techniques like fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to look at regions of the brain involved in identifying threats and storing memories of fearful events. What we want to know is whether these areas are different in function and structure from people who don’t have PTSD. In the past five years, we’ve been able to pretty precisely pinpoint abnormalities in how these areas are working and how they look.