NEW YORK - It's a concept that's been proven to save thousands of lives by swiftly moving EMTs and their equipment through congested traffic to get to emergency scenes. But New York, the place that can benefit most in the U.S. from a network of ambulance motorcycles, or ambucycles, has yet to adopt them.
So six-time NBA All Star Amar'e Stoudemire, who cemented his career in New York, is taking the matter into his own hands and is deploying a fleet of ambucycles in a place where they're welcome -- Israel -- and he's doing it with a big assist from hundreds of young people from the Tri State area and their families.
The ambucycle concept is not new in New York. Two years ago, PIX11 News was the first news outlet in the U.S. to introduce the idea of an ambulance on two wheels.
Created by Eli Beer, an Israeli EMT who was frustrated with traffic-impeded ambulances in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, each motorcycle is equipped with a large carrying bag of essential emergency medical gear. "You have an ambulance, in a bag," Beer told PIX11 News in 2013.
Since 2002, the death rate in Israel has dropped noticeably, according to World Bank statistics, and ambucycles, operated by the group United Hatzalah, have been credited as a key factor in the progress. That's not only due to the vehicles' maneuverability. The hundreds of emergency motorbikes are also connected to a simple, but groundbreaking dispatch system. Emergency medical personnel throughout Israel download an app that connects them to a dispatch center which constantly monitors medical calls. When a call is heard, dispatchers can directly contact the closest doctor, nurse or EMT that has the app to the scene.
Ambucycles' combination of technology and maneuverability appealed strongly Stoudemire, who has in recent years developed a bond with Israel. "It's kind of a beautiful place to connect yourself with," Stoudemire told PIX11 News this week, "because of all the history that took place in the land of Israel."
He travels to the Middle Eastern country at least once a year for weeks, and when he was interviewed by PIX11 News, he was wearing a shirt from the top-ranked professional Israeli basketball team, Hapoel Jerusalem, of which he's part owner. This past basketball season, though, he played for both the New York Knicks and the Dallas Mavericks, and each game was about more than just winning.
"I said, 'Let's get Amar'e to do points for life,'" said David Kleinhandler, a multimillionaire wealth manager in New York, who is a co-owner of Hapoel with Stoudemire, as well as a big supporter of ambucycles. Kleinhandler came up with a fundraising idea for ambucycles after the 2013-2014 basketball season, "That's just the kind of guy I am," he said. To implement it, though, he would need someone who could effectively raise money from a wide variety of people. He chose someone he trusted implicitly.
"It's my greatest passion," said Kleinhandler's daughter, Rachel, 16, "to make the lives of others happier and simpler." She turned her father's idea into the Amar'e Saves campaign https://amaresaves.com. Through her family's connection to the NBA star, she worked with Stoudemire to record a promotional video that helped to kick off a campaign of giving.
Specifically, it encouraged teens and children who follow basketball to pledge to donate a specific amount to the ambucycles' parent organization, United Hatzalah, for each point Stoudemire scored during the 2014-2015 season. More important, the young people's parents and their adult friends were encouraged to give.
"You're truly saving lives," said the NBA star. "And to do it in a way that's fun to me, to play basketball, it's a win win." The campaign was also an incentive for Stoudemire to score high. In the end, he had a solid, if not his best season, with 719 points. But his name recognition significantly helped to boost how much people gave per point -- it ramped up to $545.
Donors were encouraged to bundle their money in teams headed by young people. The campaign's top fundraisers was called Team SaveLives, which was a bar mitzvah project of Jared Gehn, 13, from New Jersey.
"I made a PowerPoint, and afterward I went to a lot of people," said Gehn, about the presentation he made to various philanthropists, businesses and organizations over the the better part of a year. "They gave a lot of money, and I'm grateful," he said, proudly but humbly.
This week, he got to show, in person, the printed version of his PowerPoint presentation to his basketball hero, Stoudemire. "Good stuff," the 6-foot-11 superstar said. "This kid obviously has a good brain on his shoulders."
Jared raised more than $30,000 leading the top individual team. In total, Amar'e Saves raised $441,309, which, according to United Hatzalah, will save 4200 lives in Israel.
Meanwhile, here in the New York metro area, the average ambulance response time is more than three times the 90 seconds it is in Israel. "The traffic here is pretty brutal," Stoudemire told PIX11 News, "and it takes forever for ambulances to get to an emergency situation, so this would be a great way to attack these problems a lot quicker."
The chairman of the ambucycle organization said the New York area will soon benefit from the concept. "I'm pleased to announce that in September," said Mark Gerson of United Hatzalah, "the first U.S. city to get ambucycles will be Jersey City."
But for now, New York City, due in part to state law requiring two EMTs to respond to emergencies, is itself choosing to wait.