A life-saving experience

Magen David Adom has been running a program that allows foreigners to volunteer while learning life-saving skills.

Adam Yudelman 521 (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
Adam Yudelman 521
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
‘Our ambulance was on the way to a traffic accident, and we passed another traffic accident. Actually, it wasn’t the only time we had to respond to a car crash and would drive by other car crashes.”
Adam Yudelman, 26, recently completed a course with Magen David Adom.
For the thousands of volunteers from abroad who have gone through this program, it is a life-changing experience. Yudelman was slightly older than many of his peers. A native of Canada, he was until recently a professional tree planter. “I’ve planted more than a million trees,” he says.
In 2010 he came to Israel to live on Kibbutz Yagur and learn some Hebrew. When he was finished, he moved to Jerusalem and found out about this volunteer opportunity.
MDA’s pitch is “When did you last save a life in Israel?” According to them, the program offers the chance for volunteers “to gain first-aid knowledge that can make the difference between life and death. No matter where you are in the world, these life skills are a necessity. The experience and training you receive are invaluable when applying to graduate schools in medical professions. They will enhance your resumé with up to 200 hours of world-renowned emergency medical training.”
Yudelman recalls how he came to the program. “I made an Israeli friend who volunteered there and did an eight-month course to be a full medic. He told me it was possible to volunteer from abroad. Most of the people on my program were from Bnei Akiva and many were from America, Australia, the UK and New Zealand. I signed up online with MASA [a youth program] under the Israel Experience program. I had to do a short test in Hebrew over the phone and then paid about $800 and completed some vaccinations.”
Ilan Orly, who has volunteered for MDA in various capacities for four years and now works as a medic, teacher and guide for the new volunteers, says that Hebrew is an issue. “Many applicants lack conversational Hebrew. We offer online ulpans, and we hope the students will meet this criterion before the course. For those who have no Hebrew experience, this will be a big challenge for them, You need good Hebrew in an emergency.”
The MDA program places volunteers throughout Israel, and Jerusalem is one of its major hubs.
The idea to have a specific program for volunteers from abroad was the brainchild of Yochai Porat, after whom the program is named. Ilan recalls, “Porat was a medic in the Kfar Saba station and was the one who got this idea started to have volunteers come from outside the country to help the program. He had a lot of people who couldn’t volunteer in the old days because they weren’t Israeli. As a point of reference, MDA was started by six Canadians, actually, who came to Israel right after independence. Porat was the first overseas program coordinator.”
In 2002 Porat was in the army doing reserve duty when his unit came under sniper fire. While attempting to save the life of another soldier, he was shot and killed.
MDA volunteers begin their program with 10 days of intensive training. Yudelman remembers, with some consternation, “I had a course 10 days long at a hostel in Eilat. We had class for eight days, full days from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The classes were taught by other volunteer medics, and there was one senior paramedic.”
Orly explains that the program runs seven to 10 training sessions a year with about 60 to 100 students in each course.
“The number of students varies, but they usually range in age from 18 to 26. The frequency of the volunteer programs and how long the people volunteer varies as well. Usually people volunteer for a month or two months, and they receive around two weeks of training on top of that.”
Yudelman was particularly taken with the variety of skills he acquired. “We practiced breathing and doing CPR on dummies and using defibrilators. We had lessons in physiology, physics, kinematics, like analyzing a car crash and how the respiratory and circulatory systems work. We learned the signs of certain diseases and heart and lung conditions, trauma, shock, poisoning and how to treat animal attacks,” he says.
MDA’s workforce is made up almost entirely of volunteers, which comes as a surprise to most of those familiar with ambulance services in other countries.
Yudelman was struck by the numbers. “Maybe they have 1,500 employees and 12,000 volunteers at any one time. The overwhelming number are volunteers. I worked with a lot of Israeli high-school students who were on vacation. Sometimes we had senior medics and paramedics. The drivers were paid. The drivers are also trained medics.”
There are two types of ambulance. Orly explains that “There is a regular ambulance with basic life-support systems. Then there is a what we call a NATAN mobile ICU ambulance that has advanced life support.”
The ambulance is staffed by volunteer students, medics, senior medics and sometimes a paramedic.
“On a basic ambulance, you have a medic who is the driver and two or three volunteers, usually a high-school volunteer and maybe one of our students,” says Orly.
The type of ambulance dispatched depends on the emergency. Foreign volunteers begin their program on a basic ambulance and then might be placed with a team on a NATAN.
“Day to day it was transporting people. We mostly just moved people, took care of the equipment and took care of the bedding. We took vitals like breathing and interviewed the patients,” Yudelman recalls.
Orly, who admits that initially he was “not a big fan of blood,” says he’s had a great number of diverse experiences as a volunteer. “I have personally delivered three babies and been a part of six different births. When [Operation] Cast Lead took place in 2009, I was down there when rockets were falling and I was asked by my station manager to go help out. That was a shocking turn of events. I learned a lot, and it shaped my views about politics, but I feel like I saw the core of the Israeli-Palestinian problem and the violence.”
Orly stresses that “What I love is that we make it acceptable for people who aren’t Israeli and don’t know the culture to come in and feel they are giving something back to the country.”