May 22 07:02 PM

EMT Rathka earns awards

A Lapeer County EMS employee gets double dose of recognition

Ray Rathka
May 21, 2008
LAPEER COUNTY — When it comes to emergency response, there may be no one better to come to your aid than Ray Rathka.

A six-year veteran of the Lapeer County EMS service, Rathka, 57, has been doubly honored by his peers.

Recently named 2008 EMT of the Year by the Michigan Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, Rathka was also honored by the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services with one of four Stars of Life awards given out this year.

Honored by MAEMT on April 26 in Grand Rapids, Rathka was unable to attend the event. Mike White of Lapeer County EMS accepted the award on his behalf.

The EMT of the Year award was personally presented to Rathka on Thursday, May 15, during an open house hosted by Lapeer County EMS. The gathering included the recipient's friends, family, co-workers and local media.

Having been credited with 17 "saves" during his career in Lapeer County, Rathka has earned a reputation for being a "life saver."

"He's a great employee and has always done a very good job for us," said Galland Burnham, executive director of Lapeer County EMS. "He also has the most saves of anyone on our staff."

Burnham related a 2003 incident, when Rathka, having just administered life-saving CPR treatment to a patient, became a patient himself.

"Ray had been on a call, treated a man for a heart attack and went with the patient to the hospital," Burnham recalled. "While at the hospital, Ray began sweating and exhibiting symptoms of a heart attack himself."

Burnham said that despite his discomfort, Rathka insisted that the other patient be treated first. For that particular life-saving effort, Rathka received an "Everyday Hero" award from the American Red Cross.

A retired Ford Motor Company employee, Rathka's first week as an EMT could best be described as "baptism by fire."

"In that first week, we had two shootings, five car accidents and two full (cardiac) arrests," Rathka recalled, "but that was a good way to learn."

Relative to his high number of saves over the years, Rathka takes them in stride. The same goes for the honors he's received from his peers.

"I seem to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time," quipped Rathka. "I frankly prefer to shy away from all the attention. The real heroes are the young people coming into this profession who are trying to make a living. People don't get into this for awards."

Ironically, there could be more awards in his future. On Monday, Rathka found out he has been nominated for an award though the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians.

With all the fuss over awards, Rathka said he's been taking some teasing from co-workers and others in the profession of saving lives.

"People are having fun with this," he said. "The doctors and nurses are telling me they are not worthy to be in my presence anymore."

A 1969 graduate of Imlay City High School, Rathka was raised on a farm six miles north of Imlay City.

He and his wife, Hyldia, have been married 29 years. They have six children and nine grandchildren.

As an EMT, Rathka rotates his services at Lapeer County's four EMS stations. He is currently assigned to Station 1 in Lapeer, said Burnham.

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