When Sam Blech of Teaneck heard about NCSY Hatzalah Rescue this past year, he knew right away that he wanted to sign up. What he didn’t know was that he would save a life.
But first things first.
“NCSY had a presentation about Hatzalah Rescue last year, and I knew I wanted to do it,” the 16-year-old MTA student said. (MTA is Yeshiva University’s High School for Boys.) “I loved the idea of helping someone. I already knew I was going to Israel, and the medical aspect of this program stood out to me.”
NCSY Hatzalah Rescue is a month-long summer program run by the Orthodox Union’s NCSY Summer and United Hatzalah, a volunteer-based emergency medical services organization in Israel. The coed travel program teaches teens such skills as CPR, hemorrhage control, and how to be a first responder. In addition, participants volunteer on an ambulance and learn about Hatzalah’s dispatch center.
And — since the participants are, after all, teenagers — it also includes water sports in the Kineret with Hatzalah’s state-of-the-art rescue vehicles, riding through the desert on special jeeps, and rappelling together with Hatzalah’s search and rescue unit. The program is in its second year. This year, it welcomed 29 participants.
“It was really great,” said Sam, the son of Teaneck’s Martin and Allison Blech. “The first week and a half was like school, learning from 9 to 4. They were teaching us everything — how to deal with bullet wounds, choking, stabbing — and we were inside of United Hatzalah headquarters.
“After the first week and a half we went on shifts with an ambulance driver and an EMT.”
That’s why Sam and 16-year-old Rivkah Zigman of Portland, Oregon, were on the ambulance on July 16 when it got a call to help an unresponsive patient in an apartment complex.
“We didn’t know the problem,” Sam said, adding that an ambucycle already was there. (Ambucycles are motorcycles equipped with lifesaving gear. According to the United Hatzalah website, “Because seconds count, United Hatzalah established the ‘Ambucycle Unit’ to expedite the arrival of medics to emergency incidents. The use of ambucycles for first response has proven to be a critical link in the emergency chain of survival, allowing rescue personnel immediate access to the scene or home of a patient. The response time of an ambucycle medic averages 90 seconds due to the ability to avoid traffic congestion, road closures, debris, and parking issues.” There are now 500 ambucycles in use just in Israel.)
When Sam’s ambulance arrived, the ambucycle medic already was doing compressions on the 60-year-old female patient. “He came and realized it was a heart problem,” Sam said. “My partner” — Rivka — “started with AED” — an automated external defibrillator — “which gives a shock if needed. I took over on compressions, then she took over.” Sam then began giving breaths through a BVM, a self-inflating bag with a mask, “which is better for the patient. We each did two or three rounds of compression. Then Magen David Adom came with an advanced paramedic team and brought the patient” — now with a pulse — “to the hospital.”
The adult medics on the ambulance stood in the background, ready to jump in if necessary, but they didn’t have to. Sam and Rivka had it under control.
How did Sam feel afterward?
“During it there was a lot of adrenaline; I was afraid it wouldn’t work. Afterwards, I was full of joy and unable to stop smiling.” Also after the incident, when the team sat down at a restaurant for a well-deserved meal, they were called out again to help someone suffering from anaphylactic shock.
While he has in no way become famous, “people I haven’t seen since eighth grade contacted me and old friends sent me texts and stuff. Also, United Hatzalah made a big presentation.” Then there was a story in the Jerusalem Post and this message on the MTA Facebook page: “Sam Blech (‘21) is spending his NCSY Summer volunteering with United Hatzalah of Israel, where he received a medal to commemorate his ‘first life saved.’ We are so proud of Sam for spending his summer giving back to the Jewish community!”
Sam said while he has always considered going into the medical response field, his experience in Israel has reinforced that intention. He intends, first of all, to take the test here at home to become certified as an EMR — an emergency medical responder. He also will join the Teaneck volunteer ambulance corps.
Even if you do not pursue medicine, “it’s good to have all the information if something happens near you, like in a supermarket or restaurant,” he said. “You can use CPR, or the Heimlich maneuver, and save people’s lives.”
For more information on NCSY Hatzalah Rescue, go to hatzalahrescue.ncsy.org.