Pregnancy, Swine Flu and Mourning Bracha Feiga Williger

Like Debra, I too am a “Dirty Dancing” fan and was deeply saddened to hear of Patrick Swayze’s death. But someone whose death this week had not yet been added to Wikipedia when I checked this morning is Bracha Feiga Williger, the 23rd victim of the H1N1 virus in Israel.

While Williger’s death hasn’t caused the media frenzy that Swayze’s has, it has gotten a fair amount of coverage, even outside of Israel, than one might expect for the death of a regular awoman because Williger was in her 39th week of pregnancy — her fetus died a few days earlier, and she passed shortly after delivering it. She leaves behind 10 children and a husband. Williger was in her early to mid-thirties (mainstream reports say she was 33, Yeshiva World News reported 35).

Williger was the third reported pregnant woman to come down with H1N1 in Israel and the first to die of the virus. (The first and second delivered early through C-sections.) Her case emphasizes that pregnancy is another risk factor for complication of H1N1.

Needless to say, this death saddens and scares me more than Patrick Swayze’s. But, leaving emotions aside for a moment, comparing the different reports of Williger’s death also provides an interesting window into the decisions that journalists and media outlets make, and how one need often read multiple reports to get the full story.

A Ynet breaking news update led with, “A mother of 10, aged 33, has died at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem after being diagnosed with swine flu,” and went on to note the circumstances of her delivering her unborn fetus. Haaretz’s initial brief left out the part about her being a mother of 10, but noted that she was the 23rd Israeli to succumb to the virus and that, “More than 3,000 people have been diagnosed with swine flu in Israel, including 11 in intensive care.”

A subsequent full-length article in Haaretz also focused on the relevance of Williger’s case to the larger H1N1 situation in Israel, and the effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, of various drugs used to treat the disease. This article revised a fact in the brief, saying she was the 22nd person to die of H1N1 in Israel, and noted, “The woman had a history of obesity, which placed her in a high-risk group.”

The JPost’s short article led with that bit and added another fact not noted in Ynet or Haaretz, that she hadn’t immediately sought treatment for her symptoms: “A pregnant and overweight 33-year-old woman who had signs of the H1N1 flu for a week before going to the doctor went to Jerusalem’s Bikur Holim Hospital in Sunday where her fetus was found to be dead a week before term.” This article also notes that “she died despite all the efforts of doctors to save her,” and adds a warning from the health department that those in high risk groups, as Williger was, should seek immediate attention for any flu-like symptoms. The subtext here, I think it’s fair to say, is that Williger could have prevented her own tragedy if she’d taken better care of herself.

JTA’s lede includes all the basic facts: “A 33-year-old pregnant mother of 10 became Israel’s 23rd death related to swine flu.” Interestingly, it goes on to note the guidelines recently issued by the Israeli Health Ministry “for the religiously observant to help them avoid contracting swine flu in religious institutions.”

But what none of these mainstream media outlets mention is the name Bracha Feiga Williger or the fact that she was ultra-Orthodox. For that information we turn to The Yeshiva World News:

For most of us the woman’s name, her husband’s profession, or the ages of her children are not as relevant as the details of her death so we can learn from them, the better to protect ourselves from a similar fate. Notably, Yeshiva World News doesn’t include any warnings from the health department or guidelines about how to prevent the spread of the virus. Its focus is completely on this woman and her family.

If it were a mainstream publication, including those personal details might even be considered an invasion of privacy. Noting that she was Satmar might be perceived as biased in some way, particularly in Israel where tensions with the ultra-Orthodox are running high these days.

Yet knowing those details make this story, this woman, more real. And while I wouldn’t rely on Yeshiva World News as my primary news source, I appreciate the way the publication makes this tragic death into something more than an incident to integrate into our swine flu schema. It makes her death something to mourn.

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Pregnancy, Swine Flu and Mourning Bracha Feiga Williger

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