'Point Break' meets 'ER'
by joey |
In the high desert haven of Bend, Ore., Matt Sabelman, A.A.S. '07, is building a growing business for both the weekend warriors and the adrenaline-fueled daredevils that flock to the region. But it's not a craft beer or a bike shop or anything else you'd expect. Launching last year, Matt's business Adventure Medics makes sure everyone stays safe amid Central Oregon's massive outdoor options.
Adventure Medics is a contract-based medical team, providing reliable on-site support at major regional events. Clients include low-key music festivals as well as 100-mile ultramarathons through remote backcountry. Central Oregon hosts a slew of bike rides and endurance races, and prompt on-site paramedics are essential (especially ones who follow participants along the course and don't just wait at the finish line).
Since launching in 2015, Matt has built a mighty fleet of ATVs, UTVs, Jeeps, and motorbikes and likewise assembled a roster of medically trained kayakers, paddleboarders, surfers and rock climbers.
Just imagine the characters in Point Break moonlighting on ER and you have a general idea of the team.
Crisscrossing the Kenai
Matt first fell into the medical field while living in Homer. He answered a call for volunteer firefighters and mentally prepared to battle blazes across the area. "What I found was, every time my pager would go off, it was always medical," he noted. "I thought if I really want to start responding, I should probably [get] medical training." The department sponsored his EMT-1 course and, much to his surprise, he couldn't get enough. "It was really weird, I just found that that's what I wanted to do. I just loved it," he recalled. "I loved jumping in the ambulance, I loved helping people, I loved being there for someone when they were in crisis."
After the three-month course, he knew he had to keep going. Thankfully, one of the nation's top programs was just down the street.
UAA trains paramedics at both Kenai Peninsula College and Mat-Su College. As a degree-only program, every graduate is eligible for national licensure (for comparison, 95 percent of paramedic programs only offer certificates).
"The Kenai program is great for anyone who's thinking about a career in the EMS field," Matt noted. "But it's difficult." UAA's program boasts some of the highest required hours anywhere, far above national standards, but it pays off. According to assistant professor Paul Perry, the national paramedic pass rate for first-time licenses is 64 percent. At UAA, the pass rate is 96 percent. "It puts us as one of the top paramedic programs in the entire country," Paul noted.
Matt was plenty busy as a student, crisscrossing the Peninsula constantly. He drove three days a week to Soldotna, and headed to Anchorage on weekends for required hospital rotations alongside midwives, surgeons and anesthesiologists. Meanwhile, he also completed required ride-alongs with fire departments in Homer, Nikiski and Kenai. Through it all, he worked at a group home for developmentally disabled adults in Homer, finishing his homework while the residents slept. The whole program capped off with a required three-month internship that brought him to Pierce County, Wash.
"It was a busy, busy year, man," Matt laughed.
Doc in a box
After such a crazy schedule, you'd think he'd slow down after graduating. But no.
Matt soon joined Fairweather, an Alaska company specializing in broad support services for industries like oil and gas, environmental cleanup, even ice road construction. Matt deployed all over the state as a "doc in a box," setting up clinics and providing primary care during months-long contracts. If things got hairy, he called a sponsoring physician who could authorize him to dispense drugs and antibiotics. If things got hairier, Matt would coordinate medevac flights back to Anchorage.
The job, obviously, could be a bit nerve-wracking. Take, for example, the trip to Attu Island to decommission a Coast Guard base. Imagine being the only paramedic on a weather-beaten island riddled with World War II explosives, a mere 1,500-mile flight from the ERs of Anchorage.
Remote medicine has its perks, though. "It allowed me to see a lot of Alaska, and a lot of beautiful things," he recalled. And, to top it off, he made his home in Nicaragua between jobs (after riding his motorcycle down from Alaska, of course).
Building a business in Bend
Though still involved with Fairweather, things have slowed down a bit. A wife and daughter will have that effect.
Currently, Matt lives in Bend, Ore., and works at the Kuparuk Clinic and Fire Department on the North Slope oilfields. Like most folks, he takes two weeks on and two weeks off, a perfectly normal schedule compared to the previous several years.
The reliable two-week breaks have finally allowed Matt to pursue a big goal of owning a small business. But with a Jeep, motorbikes and million-dollar insurance policies, Adventure Medics is no small startup.
"I've learned so much from Fairweather and doing remote medicine, and it really transfers well here in Oregon," Matt said. "Basically, what we're trying to do is provide a higher level of care to events that they don't normally see."
Adventure Medics was a serious step, and Matt was thoughtful about his approach. He pitched his plan to event promoters in central Oregon and asked if they'd be interested. They all said yes.
"We've really been accepted by Bend, I feel," he said. Though local search-and-rescue teams are always on hand, Adventure Medics provides much-needed peace of mind. "Event promoters understand they need to have this kind of service at events," he added. And in a wilderness playground with big-draw events, it's even more essential to have paramedics who can reach all corners of the racecourse in all types of terrain.
In typical Matt fashion, it's been a busy year. Adventure Medics is expanding into a 5,400-square-foot warehouse this spring, providing space for the growing vehicle fleet and room to offer first aid and CPR courses to the public. He's also working on a federal bid to provide medical services for forest fire crews, and is converting a 40-foot hauler into a mobile ER in preparation. He recently added a business partner, and they're writing the country's first curriculum for motorcycle medics.
After a career trailing big risks in epic landscapes, owning a small business is the next big thrill. "It's been fun, it's been a great kind of adventure for us," Matt added. "Starting a business will have its ups and downs. You have to be prepared to dedicate the majority of your time and make sacrifices. I would however encourage anyone to follow their dreams. It's been an incredible journey for me."
The entrepreneurial spirit has allowed him some much-appreciated family time, too. When he's not on the North Slope or in the office, you can find him at Smith Rock State Park, rock-climbing with his wife and 7-year-old daughter. "Bend is an incredible place," he noted.
Learn more about Adventure Medics at their website.
Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement