Dr. John Michael Ackerman, M.D., loving husband, father, grandfather, compassionate psychiatrist, and pioneer in integrative medicine, succumbed to Lewey Body Dementia at Valle Verde memory care unit on Aug. 2.
John was born in 1937, the only child of Dr. Jack S. Ackerman, surgeon and obstetrician gynecologist, and Ilona (Ilus) Weiser, interior designer.
His parents immigrated prior to World War II from Czechoslovakia and Hungary respectively to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where John’s childhood was enriched with European culture, especially music.
His father’s cardiac health crisis at age 44 when John was 6 years old shaped John’s life, sparking his interest in the psychological impact of chronic illness on patients and their families.
John’s penchant for research sprang from his father’s participation as the subject and co-investigator of one of the pioneering studies on the use of warfarin (Coumadin) as a blood thinner.
After graduating in psychology from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!), John received his medical degree from the University of Wisconsin. While studying in Madison, he met his wife Ruth Watkins. They married in 1963.
He completed his straight medical internship at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, followed by his psychiatric residency in San Francisco at UCSF and Mt. Zion hospitals. All of this occurred while Ruth completed her masters degree in Social Welfare at UC Berkeley.
They both worked on the front lines during the Summer of Love.
From 1968-70 John served in the U.S. Public Health Service Division of Indian Health in Anchorage, Alaska, as director of psychiatric services for the indigenous people of the state.
His son David was born in Anchorage shortly after John started the assignment. John’s position required weeks of absence from his family as he visited the area hospitals by bush plane, including Nome, Barrow, Kanakanak, Tanana, Kotzebue and Sitka.
He sought to change the Bureau of Indian Affairs policy of forcing indigenous children to attend boarding schools, often thousand of miles from home. He also worked with village healers, and often utilized short-wave radio, the telemedicine of its time.
These experiences introduced John to alternative healing methods and the importance of community in supporting mental health. His pursuit of more training in community mental health brought him to the outstanding program in Ventura County in 1970.
He also began a part-time private practice in Santa Barbara. His daughter Dara was born shortly after the move. John turned to full-time private practice when funding for community mental health was severely reduced.
Always at the forefront of innovation, John began his studies in acupuncture in 1971; family therapy at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic in 1979; and ear acupuncture for treating anxiety, trauma, and substance abuse at Lincoln Hospital in New York City’s South Bronx in 1981.
His interest in acupuncture led to him auricular medicine, with many trainings, conferences, and research projects in France. His practice and innovative research resulted in an esteemed award from the G.L.E.M. (Lyon Medical Studies Group).
In addition, for 11 years John travelled to the Netherlands to research subtle energy. He was very proud to have edited the book “Light in Shaping Life: Biophotons in Biology and Medicine” with his biophysics research collaborator Roeland Van Wyjk.
John was an active member of psychiatric and medical societies and presented numerous papers at national and international conferences.
Locally, he was active in the Cottage Hospital Department of Psychiatry, Santa Barbara College of Oriental Medicine, the Family Therapy Institute, Medical Reserve Corps (adding acupuncture to their resources), Montecito Emergency Recovery and Action Group, League of Women Voters and other nonprofits dedicated to improved health care delivery.
In later years, his interest in antibiotic-resistant bacteria relative to hospitals and community water quality was representative of his ongoing interest in public health and disease prevention.
After retirement, John was able to pursue his love of singing and his life-long dream of singing for live audiences as he had done when he was a young child.
John is survived by his wife Ruth; son David; daughter Dara; daughter-in-law Gabrielle Perrin; grandchildren Amalia and Moses Ackerman; and his beloved extended family.
John will always be remembered for his patient, loving, compassionate and kind heart, his contagious laughter, his enthusiastic love of song and dance, and his devotion to his family.
He loved spending time with his grandchildren, running on the beach with his kids and their golden retrievers, camping, skiing, hiking, bowling, and playing backgammon with his family.
The family thanks the staff at the Valle Verde Grove for their devoted and loving care during John’s last year.
John was all about pandemic and other disaster prevention. He would advise mask wearing, hand washing, and voting.
Contributions in his memory may be made to Doctors Without Borders and Direct Relief International.