The first Muslim woman to become a volunteer in United Hatzalah celebrated another first on Monday, when she became the first female Muslim to receive a Hatzalah ambucycle.
Ambucycles are dual-sport motorcycles that hold a medic’s life-saving equipment on board. An ambucycle rider generally reaches the scene of an accident or the home of a patient in an average of 90 seconds.
Sanaa Mahameed, 31, received her ambucycle near her home in Umm el-Fahm.
Mahameed was all smiles as she tested out her new three-wheel bike on the city’s hills and potholed roads. She told The Jerusalem Post that despite the bike’s speed, “I am not worried about it being dangerous. I am strong.”
Rather, she said that she is excited because she will have more opportunities to provide help.
“There is a lot of traffic in my area and it can be hard for a car to navigate,” Mahameed said. “I want to be the first on the scene [of an accident].”
Mahameed trained to ride the bike in a driving school in Afula. She paid for the training course herself.
Mahameed started out as an EMT two years ago, when she joined Hatzalah’s force of 5,000 volunteers. Of those, there are only around 400 Muslims and 450 women.
In addition to her volunteer work with Hatzalah, Mahameed drives an ambulance for the local EMS organization and works at the local Clalit health clinic. She often serves as the EMT on duty at collegiate and high school sporting events and as the accompanying EMT on school field trips.
She said that she has known since she was a teenager that she wanted to become an EMT. When she was 16, her aunt called her in a panic because her uncle had passed out on the couch and was not responsive. No one was at home, so she ran to her aunt’s house to try to help. Lacking medical training, all she could do was call an ambulance, which came fast – but not fast enough. Her uncle died.
During the incident, she recalled that her cousin was “standing over him screaming at him, ‘Daddy! Daddy! Please wake up!’”
“After the incident,” she continued, “I decided that I would learn to become an EMT in order to be able to help next time. I pray to God that I can help whoever needs me.”
She has seen her share of successes and tragedies.
There was the time a man was shot in the chest and she was the first to arrive on the scene. She managed to stop the bleeding and administer fluids, which kept him alive until the ambulance came 40 minutes later. He underwent surgery and survived.
Then there was the 80-year-old man who suffered a heart attack. She revived him, but one month later he died.
And there was a three-car pile up to which she found one of the drivers had died before she arrived at the scene.
“There are so many stories,” she said with a sigh. “But I am not fazed. I continue to leave work, my house – morning, evening, the middle of the night – it could be 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., and I will go.”
Her family and community embrace her decision.
“They look at me and say, ‘kol hakavod,’” she said, referencing the Hebrew phrase for respect. She said that members of her Muslim community think it is unique that she is a religious woman doing work that many assume is meant for a man. Mahameed dresses modestly and covers her head with a traditional Muslim hijab.
In a video interview, her father said that he and his wife have always been supportive of their daughter.
“I told her that we would gladly help her with whatever she needed to succeed,” he said. “My whole family holds our heads up high because of her.”
Mahameed said that many young women approach her and express interest in her career. She tries her best to offer guidance and support.
“I have helped many of them, thank God,” she said.
She also plans to continue pursuing her own dreams. She told the Post that she would like to complete training to fly an emergency response helicopter.
“It is very difficult to do this, but this is my dream,” she said. “And please God, I will succeed.”
However, for now, Mahameed said that she is happy with her new three-wheel ambucycle.
“The amount of focus it takes to drive a regular motorcycle is incredible in its own right, especially on the roads and highways in Israel where driving can be treacherous at its best,” said Raphael Poch, head of resource development and community relations for Hatzalah. “Riding an ambucycle, knowing that at any moment you have to shift gears into emergency mode, and driving with all of the care and responsibility that comes with it is a task only given to the select few.”
“Sababa,” Mahameed said with a smile. “It’s great.”