Jewell Cardwell

As an Akron police officer, Aaron Clark was no stranger to hospital emergency rooms and cuffs, as handcuffs were often necessary for folks who had run afoul of the law and caused bodily harm to others.

He’s still no stranger to the ER, but this time the cuffs are of the blood-pressure variety.

On July 1 Aaron Clark will become a resident physician at Summa’s Akron City Hospital’s emergency department, where he’ll be known as Dr. Clark instead of Officer Clark.

I first met the then 29-year-old in late 2008, when he was graduating magna cum laude from the University of Akron with a biology degree. Not only that, he had been tapped to be the speaker at the afternoon graduation ceremony.

Going back to school after a 4½-year stint on the Akron Police Department was a daunting thing to do, turning in his badge and holster — to say nothing of a handsome paycheck and a career he had come to love.

Even so, he explained to me, he could hardly wait to get to the next chapter in this adventure he calls life: He was on his way to medical school at the Northeast Ohio Medical University.

It was a leap of faith, as he had a lot going on. He and his wife Kerri — a nurse at Akron General Medical Center — were expecting their second child that April.

Last month Aaron emailed: “Well, it looks like I will finally be graduating from NEOMED this May … I recently found out that I will be doing my emergency medicine residency at Summa Akron City Hospital. My family and I are very excited!”

I couldn’t wait to hear about his journey.

“I’m elated, relieved, excited and nervous! Saturday, May 17, is the date!” was how the now 34-year-old man in a plaid shirt, blue jeans and close-cropped haircut announced the good news.

It’s an extraordinary time for this family. Kerri, already a two-time University of Akron graduate with biology and nursing degrees, is graduating again from UA on May 16 with a Master of Science degree with a specialization as a nurse practitioner.

“My wife is the smartest person I know,” Aaron — as humble now as he was when I first shook his hand — said of his wife. “And she’s as steady as a rock. She never doubted me, even having to live on one paycheck for almost eight years.”

So, to say there will be a big-time, dual celebration at the couple’s Jackson Township home would be a major understatement.

Busy times

The Clarks’ educational journey — while meaningful — has been “very tricky” to navigate, Aaron acknowledged.

“When I got home from school I would be with the kids (Ali, 8; and Drew, 5) until their bedtime. Then I would study.”

Medical school, said Aaron, who confessed to being almost the oldest in his class of 120, “was very difficult … Just the volume of information I had to study was overwhelming! And on the weekends when my wife was working I had the kids.”

“You just do what you have to do!” was his thoughtful diagnosis of those years.

Not surprisingly, both of Aaron’s parents are over-the-moon delighted by his accomplishments. His career choices were clearly influenced by both of them.

Aaron’s father, Ronald Clark, retired from the Akron Police Department in 2001 after 25 years of service. “Dad retired right before I was hired, so they saved his badge — No. 7 — for me,” he said, his voice bathed in pride.

His mother, Dr. Rebecca Clark, is an emergency medicine physician, formerly in Dover and now in Seattle, where the couple’s daughter Emily is a cop.

It’s been a family affair in other ways too.

“My dad stayed back to be our baby sitter for the last two years,” a grateful-beyond-words Aaron said, adding a little humor: “The pay has not been good; but he’s certainly had nice benefits.”

Fond memories

Aaron allowed that even though he’s moved in another direction careerwise, he still has fond memories of his years on the force. “I didn’t leave the police department with a grudge or a bad taste in my mouth. In fact, I think about them every day. It’s tougher and tougher the further I get away from it and I miss it more!’’

Yes, even unfathomable days — perhaps especially those — are permanently etched in Aaron’s memory bank. One happened on Feb. 17, 2005; it involved a distraught 24-year-old mother standing near the edge of the All-America Bridge that links North Hill to downtown. She was determined to jump, Aaron recalled, with her 6-year-old daughter in tow.

Officer Regina Hankins was able to pull the child to safety. In the meantime, Aaron and three other officers — Adam Lemonier, Bryan Stevens and Benjamin Urdiales — managed to lunge and pull the mother, hanging from the bridge, back to the safety of the sidewalk.

He still thinks about that mother and that little girl.

The similarities between what he was sometimes charged to do as a police officer and what he may find in the ER are not lost on Aaron, who summed it up this way: “Same clientele, different focus.”

“I’ve always kept my foot in the door, keeping in touch [with members of the Akron Police Department] on Facebook, always with the intent to do something with them,” he continued, explaining, “I’m thinking I might like to do something down the road where I can incorporate both professions, like becoming a SWAT [Special Weapons And Tactics] doctor.”

Aaron reasoned that when SWAT goes out, it’s always a high risk situation: “So, it would make sense to have a medical person on site if the case goes south” and someone needs life-saving care.

But that’s down the road. Back to his present-day journey, Aaron admitted that when he was deciding on a medical specialty, “OB/GYN almost got me! It was a lot of fun!”

Asked if he thought his children, at their early ages, might be thinking about following in Mommy and Daddy’s footsteps, he laughed, then said, “Our son does say that he wants to be a nurse or a doctor. Our daughter, well, it depends on the day of the week. One day she wants to be a dancer, the next a trash collector and the next a doctor.”

The beauty of it is that with a family like hers, she’ll always know that anything is possible if she only believes and listens to her heart.

Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or jcardwell@thebeaconjournal.com