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Tsunami brings doctor, businessman together

A year after the tsunami devastated Thailand, an injured Israeli businessman and the doctor who treated him returned to Thailand for memorials — and their engagement.
Israelis Bombiger and Nitzan kiss in a hospital room in Phuket
Israeli businessman Ron Bombiger and Dorit Nitzan, a volunteer doctor, celebrate their engagement in the hospital room Phuket, Thailand where they first met, and where he proposed to her on Monday.Chaiwat Subprasom / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

In the chaos after Asia’s killer tsunami, a volunteer Israeli doctor and a badly injured survivor fell in love.

A year later, Israeli-born businessman Ron Bombiger held Dr. Dorit Nitzan’s hand and proposed on Tuesday in the Phuket hospital room where they first met.

“Dori, in front of all these people, will you marry me?,” asked Bombiger, 49, as beaming nurses looked on in the room adorned with red roses and petals on the bed in the shape of a heart.

She whispered in his ear, they kissed and exchanged engagement rings to loud cheers and applause.

The two met days after the tsunami shattered Bombiger’s hotel on Kamala Beach on the Thai tourist island of Phuket.

Thais gave Bombiger, who was visiting from Los Angeles, a blanket and rushed him to the island’s main Bangkok Hospital with a serious leg injury.

Nitzan, a member of the Israeli team sent to Thailand to help survivors, visited Bombiger as he spent the next few weeks in room 432, recovering from six operations on his right thigh.

They discovered they had lived as children in the same town in Israel.

“We call it the ’wave of love’”, Bombiger said of the tragedy that brought them together. “This wave came in and I found this girl I love and want to spend the rest of my life with.”

Paying tribute
The couple flew to Thailand with Bombiger’s mother to attend somber memorial services on Monday for the 5,395 people who died in Thailand, including nearly 2,000 foreigners.

Bombiger’s niece and her husband, who was also injured in the tsunami, came back with their six-week-old baby boy.

“My heart is with those who cannot be so happy since the tsunami,” said Nitzan, 45, from Tel Aviv, who thanked the Thai people and hospital staff for “bringing us together”.

“You are in our hearts forever,” she said, clutching a bouquet of red roses.

Bombiger was among the 1,037 tsunami survivors rushed to the private hospital from Phuket, Phi Phi Island and worst-hit Khao Lak, where most people had died.

“It was chaos. There were patients everywhere. They came in swimsuits with no money, no passports. We just helped them,” recalled hospital spokeswoman Piyanooch Ananpakdee.

Return to say thank you
The hospital’s five operating rooms worked through the night and day. Doctors slept on the floor, waiting for the next patient. They lost only one, a Belgian man.

The tragedy pushed hospital staff to their limits.

“One doctor was crying while he operated on a little girl the same age as his daughter,” she said.

Staff also had to cope with distraught relatives demanding to search hospital rooms in the hope of finding a missing loved one.

“They were crying and we tried to help them as much as we can,” Piyanooch said.

Bombiger said he wanted to return to thank the nurses, his doctor Pongsakorn Eamtanaporn and the Thai people for giving him a new life.

The couple plan to get married in a few months. And the honeymoon?

“We are coming to Thailand,” Bombiger said.