[sidebar]Dr. Michele Melamed (left) and Eli Beer, founder and president of United Hatzalah, display the award Dr. Melamed received for her support of the volunteer organization. PHOTOS: Anonymous[/sidebar]
Many go into medicine because of their desire to help people—and pursue that passion both in and out of their white coat. Michele T. Melamed, DO, MPH, began following her passion to help well before medical school by networking for United Hatzalah of Israel, the largest independent, volunteer-based EMS organization in Israel. The nonprofit organization coordinates more than 5,000 volunteer first responders equipped with ambucycles—motorcycles stocked with medical equipment—to provide free 24-7-365 emergency care to people throughout Israel, regardless of race, religion, or national origin.
As a teenager, Dr. Melamed learned of United Hatzalah’s mission to save lives and began spreading the word about it, encouraging others to learn more and get involved. A recent information session and fundraiser she organized drew about 40 interested attendees and raised funds to help equip United Hatzalah’s volunteers. Her work over the years was recognized by United Hatzalah with an award in the shape of an ambucycle.
Dr. Melamed, who is currently a PGY2 resident in the emergency medicine program at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, recently sat down with ACEP Now’s Medical Editor-in-Chief Kevin Klauer, DO, EJD, FACEP, to discuss her passion for United Hatzalah’s work and how she has used her skills to support its mission over the years.
KK: I understand you were recently recognized by United Hatzalah. How old were you when you started volunteering?
MM: I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and immigrated to the United States when I was about eight years old. I was very fortunate to be raised by parents who were committed to community service. Maybe as early as six years old, they would take me to nursing homes to visit the sick and also to different centers for mental and physical disabilities of adolescents. I feel like, from a very early age, I was exposed to people in underserved communities or who were less fortunate than me. Growing up with the mentality of always giving and being sensitive to others who are less fortunate really set the tone for my outlook on life and ideals in general.
When I met Eli Beer, the founder and president of United Hatzalah, I was about 15. I met him at a community meal for my synagogue. He started telling me about the organization. I think what really interested me the most was the concept. He came up with an original idea and executed on it. His idea was literally helping people in their most vulnerable time, which sounds very much like what we do as emergency physicians. Even more interesting is the fact that he was a young man, in his teens, when he thought of the idea and starting volunteering as an EMT. I knew, as a 15-year-old, that I couldn’t give financially, but I could talk about the organization to other people and inspire others to be part of something as great as this organization is.
KK: What’s the mission of the organization?
MM: The mission is to provide immediate medical response within minutes. Their goal is less than 90 seconds. It’s an organization made up entirely of 5,000 volunteers who receive at least 200 hours of training in medical response; they’re either EMTs, paramedics, retired physicians, or even active physicians. They use LifeCompass, a GPS system kind of like Waze or Uber. They find the closest person to the scene. If you can respond, then you go. It’s totally nonprofit, funded by private charitable donations. One of their current goals is to make sure that every volunteer has a defibrillator.
I would say it’s just like any of our paramedics in the United States, except for the fact that instead of using ambulances to get to the scene, they are using ambucycles, which are motorcycles that have everything on them to save a life. They have all the basic supplies for an emergent situation. Imagine you’re in Israel, where it’s ancient, with narrow alleys, and densely populated. There’s lots of people. There are lots of cars. Ambulances can’t always get to patients within a short amount of time. Eli decided, “You know what? We have motorcycles that can maneuver through traffic and get there quicker.”
KK: What kind of impact has the program had?
MM: They’re serving the entire country of Israel. They’ve taken care of almost 4 million people since they’ve started the organization. They get about 250,000 calls a year. By the way, there’s no charge to patients. It’s pretty amazing.
KK: Tell us about the award that you received and what you were recognized for.
MM: I certainly wasn’t expecting anything. I said to Eli and his deputy director of international operations, Gavy Friedson, “I don’t know when you’re coming to Atlanta, but just let me know. I want to organize an event.” My goal was to bring maybe 50 people together.
I wanted to tell people how I got involved in the organization and what it meant to me. I really wanted to make it clear to people that, “I’m not asking you to come and give money. I want you to think about what this organization does and how you can be part of it.”
The event was on December 10th. We received at least two or three defibrillators, which cost about $2,500 each, and then a couple of ambucycles, which are at least $36,000 apiece.
KK: That really is a lot for one evening. How did the organization recognize you?
MM: I was so excited about it. When Eli spoke that night, he said, “I remember you as a teenager talking about becoming a doctor, and I remember telling you, ‘Go for it, become a physician.’” It definitely brought tears to my eyes. That personal recognition, along with the award itself, reminded me where I came from; it was a great feeling.
KK: Funding a cause with passion is something else that’s equally important, if not more important, than the economics. Devoting your time and your passion, particularly so early in your career, can be more important than financial contributions. Thank you for representing ACEP, the Emergency Medicine Residents’ Association, and the emergency medicine community so well, Michele.
MM: Thank you for being interested and for sharing our story.