BOZEMAN, Mont. — John Antonucci's family expected last Thanksgiving to be his last.
The 61-year-old former carpenter was severely injured in 2008 when he fell off a roof and broke his neck, leaving him partially paralyzed. Last year, Antonucci was bedridden and very sick with pneumonia. The family expected he'd die before the end of the year.
Antonucci had no way to join his family for Thanksgiving. But American Medical Response's Home for the Holidays program helped him out with a ride.
The ambulance company in Bozeman has been giving people free rides to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with family for at least the last three years, said Art McKiernan, AMR operations director.
While it'd be hard to pin that Thanksgiving visit to Antonucci's recovery, it meant a lot to his family.
"For us to see him last Thanksgiving was special because we thought it'd be our last visit with him," said his son, Abe Antonucci. "We didn't know he'd survive, so it was especially meaningful."
AMR believes that good medical care involves medicine and the well-being of each patient, McKiernan wrote in a letter to area nursing, assisted living and hospice facilities. The Home for the Holidays program brings families together.
Sitting in his wheelchair in the sun outside Mountain View Care Center, John Antonucci described his family: four children, six grandchildren with two on the way, plus several nieces and nephews.
"It was like 20 people in (Abe's) house" last year, he said. "When I showed up, everyone was like 'Uncle John's here.'"
Antonucci was eager to have Thanksgiving dinner at one of his children's homes this year, transported again by AMR.
He was most looking forward to "just being with all the grandkids at once" and, of course, the huge meal.
The ambulance crews readily volunteer to participate in the program, McKiernan said. The families are so grateful, they've told him.
"It's definitely a very positive experience for both the families and the crew," he said.
As for the Antonuccis, they are thankful to have another Thanksgiving with John Antonucci.
"We're just so blessed to have him here today," Abe Antonucci said.
AMR is offering the service to up to six patients from a nursing, hospice or assisted living facility on each holiday — Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Mileage is limited and patients will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis.
Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com