Family and caring for others are best gifts for Vegas medic

During the Christmas season 32-year AMR veteran Rick Ackers does double duty as Sin-City Santa

The first thing you notice about Rick Ackers is his size: at 5'8" and 270 pounds, Ackers is a rotund man.

"I prefer to think of myself as jolly," the 52-year-old paramedic says, which explains why you’ll find him in a Santa Claus suit right about now.

Ackers loves playing Santa at the company Christmas party. "I’ve been doing it for years. I’m probably the only AMR employee in Vegas who doesn’t need padding."

Rick Ackers with his wife, Holly.
Rick Ackers with his wife, Holly. (Courtesy photo)

Responding to "Emergency!"
Like so many of us in EMS, Ackers was inspired by the TV show "Emergency!" in the mid-70s.

"I wanted to be like Johnny and Roy," he says. "I thought EMS would be a great career to go into; something where you’re not sitting in an office eight hours a day with people pressuring you."

Ackers joined Southern Nevada Volunteer First Aid and Rescue as a new EMT in 1982. He didn’t have to wait long for his first call.

"I remember hanging around at the squad, expecting something to happen. It did. A guy wrecked his motorcycle at a motocross race. He had a back injury and a broken leg. I was nervous, but my training kicked in and everything just clicked."

Ackers became an EMT-I shortly after that call, then went to Clark County Community College for paramedic training in 1985. He credits instructor Linda Netski as a no-nonsense mentor who made complicated coursework manageable.

"She’d been in the field both as a medic and a nurse," Ackers says. "She explained things in a way that even people like me without much experience could understand."

An early arrival
In 1983, Ackers joined AMR, where his medical skills were never more challenged than during a maternity case five years later.

"We were dispatched for a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage)," Ackers recalls. "Our patient was at the end of her second trimester, so 25-26 weeks along. Back in the '80s, there wasn’t much chance of a baby that young making it.

"The mother was lying on a couch crying, covered from the chest down with a sheet. An EMT from the fire department told us the baby was dead and just needed to be pronounced. That would have been my job because I was the only medic.

"I asked where the baby was. 'Between her legs,' the EMT said. I pulled back the sheet and, sure enough, there was a tiny baby still in its amniotic sac, right there between the mother’s legs."

Despite the very premature delivery and poor odds of survival, Ackers knew he had to act right away.

"I cut open the sac, took the baby out and started suctioning him. Pretty soon he started breathing. We had to assist ventilations all the way to the hospital, but he made it. It was just an amazing feeling.

"He actually lived a normal life. The neonatologist told us that’s the youngest baby he’d ever seen do so well."

A continuum of care
A pediatric save is special, but so is providing comfort to the elderly, says Ackers.

"We had a terminal cancer patient we were transporting from Vegas to a hospice in California. It was a seven-hour trip, so there was plenty of time for us to get to know each other.

"I was in the back with him most of the time. We talked about his life — his family, his work. He’d been a machinist.

"Two weeks earlier he’d been told he had only a week to live. It was sad — he was only 56 — but he was grateful for his family and what he’d accomplished in the time he’d had.

"I found out he died two weeks later. In one sense, taking care of him was all part of the job, but I’d like to think that trip made it a little easier for him."

Family as a fringe benefit
EMS has been more than just a job for Ackers.

"I met my wife, Holly, at AMR," he says. "She was a dispatcher in 1994 when we started going out. Now she’s an EMT-I working in the field.

"My daughter, Kim, is an EMT-I, too, at MedicWest here in Las Vegas."

"There’s nothing better than when we all get together for the holidays. We’re a big family: three daughters, two sons, four grandkids and two more on the way."

Not even Johnny or Roy could top that.

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