LifeLine paramedic once escorted a United States president

We are IU Health

March 25, 2019

She grew up in a town where a former vice president attended high school and some 20,000 people congregate each fall for the “Forks of the Wabash Festival.”

But at the age of 18, Kelly Apple enlisted in the US Air Force and left Huntington, IN. – the hometown of the nation’s 44th Vice President Dan Quayle. She started her military career in a state known for its seed potatoes – Idaho - and then moved on to one of the largest Air Force medical centers located on the grounds of San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base.

She enlisted in the Air Force under the name “Kelly Rader,” came in with EMT certification and worked in medical administration. She quickly earned the nickname “Radar” after the fictional character in the popular 70s show about a mobile surgical hospital during the Korean War. And like the Iowa farm boy Radar O’Reilly, Apple learned quickly about working in the field of healthcare.

In Idaho she helped organize medical records and prepare to load patients onto The Lockheed C-130 Hercules four-engine military turboprop aircrafts to be transported to larger hospitals. She was in San Antonio during the Middle East hostage crisis and one of the patients in her military hospital was the Shah of Iran. She remembers the heavily armed security that kept unwanted visitors at bay.

She left the Air Force after San Antonio and pursued a career as a paramedic for 27 years working with 911. In 2010 she obtained her nursing degree and began working in ER. One of the highlights of her career was twice joining the official motorcade of the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush as the ambulance that would take care of the nation’s leader in the event of an emergency.

“My mom’s a nurse, my sister’s a nurse and my brother’s a nurse. It’s in my blood. It was a great education but I felt like I couldn’t breath being inside all the time,” said Apple. “It had nothing to do with patient care. I love the patient care, but I’m an outdoor girl. As a kid we were the ones who took off on our bikes and your dad whistled when it was time to come home for dinner,” said Apple. “We built forts, we explored the woods and I made my kids do the same thing. I don’t like the confines of being inside. I don’t even like having curtains on the windows, so being in an emergency room wasn’t for me.”

Eighteen years ago she married Gus Apple, a Vietnam War veteran who was introduced to Apple by his 84-year-old father at the American Legion. She has two daughters and four grandsons.

In June of 2018 she joined LifeLine working the night shift as a paramedic on the ALS/BLS transport side.

“Working nights is a lot different than the day shift, we transport a lot more critically ill patients rather than critical care patients,” said Apple. Her husband works days so she sleeps while he’s at work, they have dinner together when he gets home and then she’s off to work. She also makes time to work out regularly with a trainer.

It’s the patient care aspect of her job with LifeLine that she loves the most.

“I remember transporting a patient from critical care to his large cattle ranch in southern Indiana. It was his end-of-life decision. We drove way off the road where his home was perched at the top of a hill. You know you’re taking him outside for what might be the last time and you’re at this beautiful place so you want to make him happy and encourage him to take in the setting and that fresh air,” said Apple. “We carried him around the back of the house and we lingered a bit. It was a beautiful night and I just wanted him to take it all in.

“The idea that you can step into someone’s life and help make it better – not really make them smile – but help them have confidence that they are getting good medical care is the best part of my role,” said Apple. “To be able to gain the confidence of their family at a time when they are so vulnerable and to be able to touch them and let them know ‘you’re okay with me.’”

--By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email tfender1@iuhealth.org.

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