George Ackles spent his college career doing the dirty work for some of the best teams in UNLV history. Now he’s hoping Las Vegans will help support him the way he supported those great Runnin’ Rebels teams.
Ackles, 53, moved to Chicago last year, and in late March he felt a pain in his back. That’s not an unusual sensation for the 6-foot-9 former big man, but his condition quickly deteriorated. A few days later he was almost completely immobile and running a fever, so he called 911.
“I just couldn’t take it anymore,” Ackles said. “I was super scared.”
After a week in the hospital — during which he ran a consistent temperature over 101 degrees and spiking at 103.5 degrees — doctors diagnosed Ackles with a staph infection in his back and put him on antibiotics. He was released after 10 days.
Ackles is now recovering at home, but his ordeal is far from finished. Because his union dues had not yet kicked in with his new job, he was uninsured for the entire length of his hospital stay.
The medical costs racked up quickly.
“My bills are over $80,000,” Ackles said. “I have no way of paying it.”
Ackles was the first pick in the second round of the 1991 NBA Draft but never played in the league. After a decade-long career overseas and in semi-pro leagues, he now supports himself with his job in security.
As Ackles’ hospital bills continued to accumulate, his friend Carlena Gower suggested starting a GoFundMe drive to solicit donations. Though Ackles was unfamiliar with the online fundraising platform, he gave the go-ahead. Just like his days in Las Vegas, Ackles is still quiet and reserved.
Gower created the drive on March 25 with a goal of raising $15,000 to help offset Ackles’ medical bills. As of April 7, users had pledged more than $13,400.
Ninety-four donors have contributed to the fund, many of them Las Vegas locals and UNLV fans who remember and appreciate the way Ackles contributed to those all-time teams under Jerry Tarkanian. He was an honorable mention All-American on the 1991 team that went undefeated before losing in the Final Four, and missed the national championship season in 1990 with a broken wrist.
“I’m grateful for all the contributions,” Ackles said. “The Rebel fans, the people of Las Vegas, I am truly grateful for that.”
While the monetary donations are extremely helpful, Ackles is also hopeful that someone out there will be able to contribute expert advice in the field of managing medical bills.
“Ultimately, the main thing is to see if I can find legal assistance or someone who knows how to talk to the hospital to hopefully get this number decreased as much as possible,” Ackles said. “I’ve been talking to the hospital financial department, but if there’s another way to help me get through this, I’m trying to find out if there are any people I can talk to about getting this bill down to where it’s something I’m able to manage.”
Ackles is feeling better and is doing light calisthenics as he tries to get back on his feet, but he is still on antibiotics 24 hours a day. His doctors said it might still be weeks before he’s able to return to work.
Ackles is determined to overcome his physical and financial challenges using the same attitude that made his UNLV teams so exceptional. Ackles was one of the program's all-time notable defenders, blocking a then school-record 141 shots — and doing so in just two seasons. The mark has since been passed by four others, including Dalron Johnson's program best 194.
“I’m going to keep working at it,” Ackles said. “We have that Rebel mentality where we don’t quit — we just keep going and going and going until we get better. So I’m not giving up.”