Defying Gravity: A TTN Intern’s Reflection on the 2022 Annual Fall Conference – 11/2022

I asked my Fall Intern from Gateway to write a blog on her experience at the 2022 Fall Conference on 10/10/22, and below is what she sent me. I hope you feel as moved as I do by her experience. It illuminates EXACTLY why I do this work, and why the community needs agencies like the Tristate Trauma Network.

“My name is Kelly and I have been interning at the Tristate Trauma Network since August. This was my very first conference; I really didn’t know what to expect. However, my experience was enriching. I’m not sure if this is how all conferences are, but I was expecting to be bored for most of the time. I had a prior engagement, so I didn’t arrive until 11:15 am. I then sat at the TTN table in the Vendor Room, just answering questions and directing people. There was a conference lunch break coming up and a little before noon, a woman who was volunteering came to sit with me at the TTN table who was genuinely nice. You could tell she wasn’t just being nice because she felt obligated too. I exchanged contact information with her to hopefully stay in touch.

There were so many different agencies at this conference in the Vendor Room. I was able to walk around and learn more about each agency and what they do for the community. I am happy to report that there are more helping agencies that are in our community than people realize.

Natalia Rachel, a somatic therapist from Singapore, was one of the guest speakers at the conference. I had noticed her book, “Why Am I Like This? Illuminating the Traumatized Self,’ near the TTN table and read the brief synopsis on the back of it. I was intrigued, so I decided to attend her afternoon session, as Melissa, the Director of TTN, told me I could attend a session in the afternoon to have a learning experience at the conference too. A friend of hers was also interested in that session and joined me. We walked in the room and the session had already begun. We found a vacant table toward the back of the room. Natalia gave us a little background information about herself. She then spoke about the power of touch, where she had learned her skill set, and how anyone can utilize it.

Before I continue, I want to say that I believe in laying hands on people in prayer. For example, if someone were sick, I would lay my hands on them and pray for them to get better or to be healed. That being said, I’ve only ever done this with my family members. I would feel so awkward walking up to a stranger and asking them if I could do that. Anyway, that is close to what I was invited to do in the session as an experiential activity. The Director’s friend and I had never met before, we didn’t know anything about one another.  For privacy’s sake, I will refer to him as John.

Natalia demonstrated the power of touch on a volunteer from the audience. Now it was our turn to try it for ourselves. I went first as the “client”; John had to stand behind me and put his hands on my shoulders (with my permission) and then on my arms, for 10 minutes each. I’m not going to lie; it was strange at first. My heart was racing, I was very aware that there was a stranger touching me. Then after a few minutes, my mind and body got over it and a calm swept over my body. I thought, “this is actually kind of nice.” When my turn was over, I told him what I had felt: going from nervous and scared to calm. He said that it wasn’t the first time that he had heard that, apparently people have told him before that he has a calming presence. Coincidence, maybe.  Now it was his turn to be the “client.” I put my hands on his shoulders and then his arms (with his permission), for 10 minutes each. I remember that he literally jumped when I first put my hands on his arms. When his turn was over, he said that it felt nice, after the initial shock of a stranger touching him, of course.

Natalia then demonstrated the 2nd part of the exercise for the group. The person that volunteered from the audience started tearing up during the exercise. I mean, can you imagine coming to a conference and then having this kind of reaction? I don’t know what else to say, other than it was intense. Now it was our turn to try the 2nd exercise. This time John went first. I first put my hands on his shoulders, then arms, then chest and back simultaneously. When his turn was over, we had a minute to talk, and he said that it felt nice and went into detail about what he had felt. I had a feeling, that I can’t describe, that he didn’t have a mother. Call it motherly instinct, or maybe God was speaking to me. Whatever it was, I didn’t know if I should ask him or not. I thought, “is this too intense for a conference?” Well, I ended up asking, but first I asked if I could ask him a personal question. It turns out he had lost his mother and wasn’t close to his father. I was blown away; how did I feel every bit of that just by touching a stranger? Amazing, just amazing. Then it was my turn again, only I didn’t feel the calming sensation that I had felt the first time; this time I found it hard to breathe. I felt as though a weight was on my chest. I kept envisioning one of those 10-ton anvil weights made from lead. I have a lot of past trauma, and I have not dealt with it in a therapeutic setting. I feel like that, combined with my current lifestyle, work, school, family, was the reasoning for my reaction. After this experience, I decided to seek therapy for myself.  This session was very intense, very eye opening, and very tranquil. I am glad to have been apart of it. I can’t wait until my next TTN conference.”

My thoughts: If we can create this type of eye-opening, yet caring and tranquil experience for trauma survivors, we are doing exactly what the founders and I set out to do with the Tristate Trauma Network.  It gives me chills and tears of joy when this happens. Kelly found her “inner healer/therapist” in her very intuitive experience with her session partner and then FELT HER BODY TELL HER what she needed to hear, which was, “I am holding in a lot of stress and pain and need help with this.”

I want to thank Natalia for creating the environment and having these skills to share with our conference attendees, and I want to thank Kelly for being vulnerable enough to share this, as I had no idea what to expect from her. I now know that she is a brave and strong trauma survivor who began her path to healing that day. Wow. I am so proud of her and my friend who was her partner; and both amazed and humbled by this work that so many of us are doing to help trauma survivors.

You may have noticed that I like to put a song to each of these experience-based blogs, to reflect/symbolize  the content. The one I found for this one, after much thought, is “Defying Gravity” from the musical “Wicked”. Take a listen and see if you agree.


Melissa Adamchik, MA, LPP, Executive Director of TTN and Ambassador of “Team Hope”

Agency Hero Highlight: Child Focus 11/2/22

Child Focus serves over 20,000 individuals in central and southern Ohio by developing thriving kids, strong families and successful adults. Child Focus is a leader in the industries of early childhood and behavioral health by creating responsive and innovative programs in collaboration with individuals, families, community agencies and institutions. Our early care and education, prevention and treatment programs improve coping mechanisms, provide support, promote school readiness and success and encourage growth and self-sufficiency for the children, families and adults in our community.

What Makes Child Focus a Trauma Hero in our Community?

Child Focus is a Trauma Informed Care (TIC) Agency. Being a TIC agency is an ongoing process, so we continue to move forward in the seven domains as our agency continues to grow and make a difference in the community. We are proud to: 1.Continue to facilitate, partner and host community trauma-informed care education/training opportunities. 2. Continue to utilize evidence-based treatment models and practices to address trauma, loss and adverse life experiences. 3.Staff a Wellness Coordinator to support the health and well-being of staff as well as promote health and wellness in the community. 4. Continue to offer and utilize telehealth, office home and community-based services. 5. Increase awareness of Early Learning, Behavioral Health and Crisis supports utilizing search engines, blogs, videos, webpages, social channels, ads, posts and community events. Check out for more information or find us on social media.

Where can you find out more about Child Focus?

Learn more about Child Focus or find us on social media:

Agency Hero Highlight: Community Mental Health Center, Inc. 8/3/22

Community Mental Health Center, Inc. (CMHC) provides a wide continuum of services in southeastern Indiana, offering behavioral health and primary care to people of all ages. About 4% to 6% of the residents of the approximately 116,000 residents of their service area utilize the services of CMHC, Inc. each year, within their 19 facilities around the Indiana area.

What Makes CMHC a Trauma Hero in our Community?

CMHC was part of one of the Trauma Informed Care Learning Collaboratives hosted by TTN a few years ago, and made great strides in changing practices and policies, as well as the culture of  their agency. Along with being a continual Tristate Trauma Network Agency member, CMHC implements many ways to be trauma informed and trauma aware for the people that they serve.

They strive to show the value for work/life balance, which led to re-organizing how they set up the billable hour expectation for clinical staff so that they can give credit for time off for vacation, sick, bereavement and training. They have also declared November as “Staff Appreciation Month” and put up signage at all locations to celebrate. During this month, they gave each team resources to have a team building event and were able to provide a Managers Appreciation breakfast. They’ve provided more EMDR training for their therapists and have purchased special equipment to increase the effectiveness when conducting EMDR via telehealth. CMHC has also provided Child-Parent Psychotherapy trainings for a number of members of their staff.

Where can you find out more about Community Mental Health Center?

To learn more about what programs and services CMHC has to offer, please visit them at:


Thank you to CMHC for being a TTN Member and for providing specialized services for trauma survivors and the staff who treat them!   We are excited to see more and more lives being changed through CMHC’s trauma-informed services.

Wishing you a day filled with HOPE and with resources like this to find the services you or someone you know needs,

Melissa Adamchik, MA, LPP, Executive Director, Tristate Trauma Network

Child Trauma Month

Childhood Trauma Survivor Turned Warrior- 6/16/22

Due to some persistent and passionate efforts by local advocates, some of whom are childhood trauma survivors and all of whom have been affected by the childhood trauma of others, June has been declared “Childhood Trauma Awareness Month” in the City of Cincinnati. This historic event occured by UNANIMOUS VOTE to pass the resolution brought forth by Vice Mayor Jan-Michelle Kearney at the City Council meeting on June 2, 2022. I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this effort. As we move into some community meetings to educate the community on childhood trauma and gain further support for this movement, I reached out to a friend and childhood trauma survivor, Jeff Ignatowski, to see if he would tell a bit of his story and how it has influenced his life. I met Jeff a little over a decade ago when he was working for the Dept. of Juvenile Justice, helping troubled teens who were much like he was at that age. Here is Jeff’s story of going from victim to victor:

“My trauma started from the time I was born, beginning even before I was a year old. I was a colicy baby and often cried a lot. My mother found that she couldn’t comfort me so she would get frustrated and yell at me. Then my father would have to come in and rock me to sleep. I was around 2 or 3 years old the first time my mother tried to kill me. I didn’t want to get washed up so she smacked me in the face, and as my nose was bleeding, she stuck my face under the running bathtub faucet trying to drown me. At this point, my older sister came in and stopped my mom and pulled her off of me.

These events happened so often in my early childhood that by the time I was 9 or 10 years old, I had my bedroom booby trapped with knives because I was afraid my mother was coming to kill me in the middle of the night. By the time I was 12 years old, the physical abuse had largely stopped, but the mental abuse continued until I left home at 17 to go to college. While I was facing  all the abuse at home, I started trying to find ways to escape my home life. By the time I was 7 or 8 years old, I was running the streets and getting involved with gangs and drug dealers. This brought on a whole other level of trauma and early formation of my view on the world. In 2015, my hometown was named Murdertown USA . It was always a tough place to grow up and I was right in the heart of it.

I always marvel at the fact that I’m now 41 years old and no one, including myself, believed that I would even make it to 18. In those years, I have learned so many things. I have struggled and had to deal with the effects that such trauma can have on our mind, spirit, and relationships.  It has definitely not been easy, but you can come out well adjusted on the other side. We have to realize is that while trauma may have happened to us, it doesn’t make us who we are. Too often we build our identity from our trauma which constantly reinforces the damage that this trauma has had on us. We then continue to re-experience the trauma without ever really dealing with the trauma itself. Our association with the trauma continues to be negative and that association drives it deeper into our psyche and then reaches out into all aspects of our lives. This is why a solitary event can continue to haunt us our entire lives, break down our self esteem, drive us into depression and anxiety, as well as destroy our relationships with others.

While we cannot change the fact that our trauma happened, we can change our associations with the trauma. I really struggled most of my life, and sometimes still do, with feeling like “I am not enough” or “I deserve to be punished”. I was not enough to get love from either my mother or father. I was not enough to keep a good relationship. I was not good enough in any of the sports I played in. I deserved to be left. Everything is my fault. This all stems from my childhood trauma.

Now there are many modalities that help people reshape their thinking. Meditation and positive self talk help lots of people, but has never been something that has helped me. I needed to go deeper than reciting a phrase over and over again. I also can’t sit still long enough to quiet my mind. I had to completely change the association from victim to victor. What I had to realize is that I am fortunate to have had to struggle through my trauma. I have been counted strong enough to withstand it and thrive from it.  I would never wish it on someone else, however I have the incredible opportunity to share my experiences with others and help them to find healing from their trauma.

To change that association, you have to make a decision. You must decide to stop allowing life to happen to you and decide to create the path that you want. We all will stay stuck in our trauma if we continue to say “poor me”. The satisfaction that we receive from that sympathy will keep us imprisoned. So decide you want something different and realize that your trauma could be the biggest opportunity that you have to effect the world around you. After you decide, you have to use that trauma to fuel the positive things in your life. No longer is that trauma the worst thing that ever happened to you, it is the secret to the success that you are finding now. Yes my mother tried to kill me, several times, but that resiliency that kept me alive is what continues to drive me in business to realize all the dreams that I have. I also know that nothing can be worse than what I already have gone through, so now everything seems easy.

Here’s the real shocker, I now have a really good relationship with both of my parents. In my realization, I had to come to terms with the fact that the initial trauma was not my fault. I also had to take a hard look at my mother and realize that her own mental illness played a large role in her behavior. The key in changing my association was forgiving her for the past and admitting my part in the abuse as I got older. At that point, it doesn’t matter if she is willing or capable to acknowledge her part. I know that my mind and spirit are clear. I can finally move on to a healthier more vibrant life.”

Thank you, Jeff, for sharing your story and your triumph over trauma. It is beautiful souls like you who use their painful experiences to help others that make this world more bearable for many. I am fortunate to have you as a colleague turned friend for so many years.

Wishing all of you readers a day filled with HOPE,

Melissa Adamchik, MA, LPP

Executive Director, Tristate Trauma Network

Agency Hero Highlight: Envision 4/25/22

Envision has been providing services since 1963 to children and adults with developmental disabilities in the Greater Cincinnati area through programs that promote independence, healthy relationships, community inclusion and skills which are necessary for living a full and vibrant life.

What Makes You a Trauma Hero in our Community?

Along with being a Tristate Trauma Network Agency member, Envision implements many ways to be trauma informed and trauma aware for the people that they serve.

  1. Continued and consistent implementation of the Sanctuary Model. This includes the daily practice of holding community meetings, with both staff and the individuals we serve. This also includes the creation and utilization of safety plans to practice healthy coping skills and behaviors in place of the maladaptive behaviors often associated with a history of trauma.
  2. Continued support of staff seeking to maintain TTN certification, including financial assistance with re-certification.
  3. Opening of a new day program in October 2020, which is client-centered and driven. The opening of this program during the pandemic provided much needed respite for families and addressed the critical need for socialization opportunities during a period of wide-spread isolation for many of the individuals we serve.
  4. The addition of a new, full-time therapist to address the mental health needs of the individuals we serve, particularly regarding past trauma experiences. This has allowed Envision to reduce wait-times for these critical services and to continue providing comprehensive assessment and therapy services to both children and adults with developmental disabilities.
  5. Exemplary staff contributions and dedication to best serving clients throughout the pandemic. This includes maintaining consistent and reliable relationships with individuals during times of uncertainty through positive and respectful interactions (both virtual and in-person). One example of such being the willingness of staff to accommodate the needs of residents living in Envision’s Bayberry group home when they fell ill with Covid just prior to Christmas 2021. Please see our attached newsletter for more information.

Is there a call-to-action you’d like to make?

To learn more about the programs and services offered by Envision, please visit us at See the attached newsletter to see more of what’s going on at Envision!

Thank you to Envision for being a TTN Member and for providing specialized services for trauma survivors and the staff who treat them. Envision serves more than 600 children and adults each year. What an impact! We are eager to see more and more lives being changed through Envision’s trauma-informed services.

Wishing you a day filled with HOPE and with resources like this to find the services you or someone you know needs,

Melissa Adamchik, MA, LPP, Executive Director, Tristate Trauma Network

Agency Hero Highlight: DCCH Center for Children & Families 4/8/22

This month we are featuring long-term agency member, Diocesan Catholic Children’s Home (DCCH) Center for Children & Families, who joined TTN when they enrolled in our 2017-2018 year-long Trauma-Informed Care Learning Community, held in partnership with The National Council for Mental Well-being (formerly the National Council for Behavioral Health).

DCCH Center for Children & Families is a multi-faceted agency providing Residential Treatment for boys and girls, ages six to 14, many of whom have experienced significant abuse and neglect. We also provide Therapeutic Foster Care & Adoption services, an Independent Living Program for young adults aging out of the foster system, Outpatient Therapy that’s open to the community, and Targeted Case Management to keep families together and connected to community resources they need to thrive.

What is your organization doing to support or advance trauma-informed care in our community? 

• During interviewing, we ask whether they have had a training in trauma-informed care.

• We list on our job descriptions the expectation that the employee supports trauma-informed

care principles/initiatives in the agency.

• During orientation all staff are trained in trauma-informed care.

• Staff are required to attend two trauma-informed care trainings a year.

• We strongly encourage staff to develop a self-care plan, we provide trainings, support, and an

EAP option to help staff with self-care.

• We do weekly education tips with all staff on trauma-informed care.

• We do announcements during the workday to encourage staff to take some self-care time.

• We work to avoid doing things to increase client’s risk of re-traumatization.

• We work to create a safe environment for clients and staff.

• We support clients having control, choice, and autonomy in their treatment.

• We strive to be strengths-based in our approach.

• We promote trauma awareness and understanding with staff and trauma screenings with


• We emphasize building relationships and being nonjudgmental and empathic in all relationships.

To learn more about DCCH Center’s programs, visit or call (859) 331-2040.

Thank you, DCCH, for being a place that cares so much about children, families, and the Northern Kentucky community!  We appreciate you!

Wishing everyone reading this a day filled with Hope!

Melissa Adamchik, MA, LPP

Executive Director, Tristate Trauma Network

Agency Hero Highlight – Community Health Alliance 3/8/22

Community Health Alliance is a regional leader providing the highest in industry standards for Health and Human Services. Through the collaboration of our agencies, Community Health Alliance is able to offer a complete continuum of services, providing a comprehensive network of care for our patients. We equip our patients with the resources, services, and tools they need to achieve their goals and to reach their highest personal potential.

What Makes You a Trauma Hero in our Community?

At Community Health Alliance, we have so many healthcare heroes!

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our teams continued to provide services without interruption including in the community, office and via telehealth. Our teams have participated in trauma trainings to build skills and respond to the needs of patients. They checked on our most vulnerable patients and helped patients navigate the challenges of the pandemic with increased contacts, help with testing and vaccination, and education on mental health symptoms and coping strategies. Our medical team was instrumental in helping with education, testing, and vaccination to help us stay healthy. All of our staff are healthcare heroes!

There is a special team member we would like to highlight as a healthcare hero, her name is Christine Birhanzl. Christine has been in the field for 25 years. Christine is our Director of Recovery Services at Community Health Alliance. She oversees peer recovery service and recovery housing. Christine holds her peer certification and has a deep connection to the recovery community. Her compassion for people struggling with addiction is unmatched. Christine focuses her time and energy doing outreach and engaging people in the recovery process. She respects the lived experiences of others and meets people where they are. She is a staunch advocate for people and will do whatever it takes to get someone the help they need.

Christine’s reach extends even beyond Community Health Alliance. She serves on the Board of New Life Mission, and has been involved in street outreach in Hamilton for the past 14 years, offering meals, clothing, and referrals to local services, as well as harm reduction items. What started out as feeding 125 sack lunches every Sunday out of her vehicle grew to providing approximately 250 meals a week, providing transportation to individuals struggling with addiction to local treatment programs, and helping people get their ID’s and Birth Certificates to enter treatment or seeking employment.

In 2011, Christine was awarded SELF’s Janet Clemmons Community Service Award. This is the highest honor SELF provides to outstanding advocates for low-income individuals. She celebrated 13 years of recovery on November 28th, 2021. In 2018, she formed SLIM (Saving Lives in Ministry) a nonprofit focusing on the needs of individuals struggling with addiction, mental health issues, and/or homelessness. SLIM has been widely successful.

Christine has a passion for people with a focus on the homeless, individuals struggling with addiction, and children. When asked what keeps her motivated, Christine responds, “If I can do or say one thing that keeps a young person out of trouble or helps an individual struggling with addiction or homelessness through a difficult time, I have succeeded. I am not one to highlight what I do. I do it because it is the right thing to do.” Christine understands the lived experience of patients and has great compassion and care for them.

Is there a call-to-action you’d like to make?

Community Health Alliance has two agencies, Transitional Living and Sojournor, that offer assistance. For more information on Community Health Alliance and their agencies, check out their website at Send them a note today to start on your path to change!

Thank you to Community Health Alliance for being a TTN Member and for providing specialized services for trauma survivors and the staff who treat them. We love hearing about Christine’s passion and work, and know that people like her are key to helping community members heal!  She is definitely a heroine in this field. We look forward to hearing about and seeing more and more lives being changed through the efforts of Transitional Living and Sojourner.

Wishing you a day filled with HOPE and the good fortune of encountering staff like Christine to help you on your journey!

Melissa Adamchik, MA, LPP, Executive Director, Tristate Trauma Network

Agency Hero Highlight -Talbert House 3/2/22

This month we are highlighting another long-standing TTN Member, who joined us in 2016. Talbert House is empowering children, adults and families to live healthy, safe and productive lives. The agency’s network of services focuses on prevention, assessment, treatment and reintegration. Services are provided at multiple sites throughout Southwest Ohio.

What Makes You a Trauma Hero in our Community?

Talbert House has two avenues in which they are providing trauma informed care. The first is Safeguards, a Talbert House program specifically addressing trauma treatment. Safeguards serves children and families who have been victims of any type of trauma, but specifically assists sexual abuse survivors, providing support to the victims and their families during their healing process. In addition, trauma informed care is critical to working with perpetrators of sexual abuse, treating them with compassion and addressing their own victimization process. Talbert House offers individual services, family treatment, and more recently, a Case Manager has been incorporated the team to work with youth and adults with trauma history. During weekly meetings and supervision sessions, Talbert House provides space to therapists to debrief their experiences with their patients – encouraging staff to practice self-care and monitor compassion fatigue. During the last two years, the team handled incredible challenges based on the social panorama and circumstances, involving racial inequalities and tensions that evoked the generational trauma that cause fear and pain in our families. A divided political environment caused frustration and insecurity in our immigrant families was also part of last year’s scenarios. Then a pandemic hit, exacerbating the mental health difficulties of our communities. However, in the middle of the difficulties, the compassion grows, and the Talbert House team was able to handle their own circumstances, trauma, and fears while continuing to offer quality services to our communities in times when it was needed the most.

The second way Talbert House is providing trauma-informed care is by focusing on the increase of the accidental overdose rates in the black community, which is up 47%. This increase is directly related to the isolation of use due to the pandemic, the stigma of the disease, the lack of awareness of available treatment that is accessible and affordable for all members of the community, and the increase in fentanyl distribution. Fentanyl is being laced in all drugs unknowingly to the community. The Gateways Peer Recovery Coaches provide outreach to communities of color supporting information dissemination, harm reduction and treatment. The African American Workgroup co-lead by Talbert House has launched a faith-based initiative working with two churches – The Greater New Hope Missionary Baptist and Corinthians Baptist – to provide harm reduction initiatives in ten traditional black churches to reduce overdose rates and increase engagement in treatment. The church has great influence in the black community and these churches open the door to reducing the stigma and increasing access to services. These innovative approaches are addressing community and individual trauma, looking at the collective and historical adverse experiences that continues to traumatize this population of our community.

Is there a call-to-action you’d like to make?
Addiction and mental health services are offered in Brown, Clinton, Hamilton, and Warren counties.You can request an appointment at this link: or if you’d like to speak with someone immediately, call 513-221-HELP(4357) for assistance.

Thank you to Talbert House for being a TTN Member and for providing specialized, innovative, and collaborative services for trauma survivors and the staff who treat them. Last year, Talbert House served over 26,000 clients face-to-face, with an additional 134,000 receiving prevention and hotline services. Such an amazing achievement in and for our community, and we are eager to see those nunmbers grow as we continue to advance trauma-informed care together!

Wishing you a day filled with HOPE and with resources like this to find the services you or someone you know needs!

Melissa Adamchik, MA, LPP, Executive Director, Tristate Trauma Network

My Father Was My Hero; He Was Also a Trauma Warrior – Part 5 – 2/26/22

This part is by far the hardest to relive and relate. Thus, I ask for your grace, if it seems less fluid than the rest of the story. After he walked again, my father lived about 6 more months. He caught a virus in September that year and it was strong enough to put him in the hospital. He wasn’t in continuously, but from that point he was in and out a lot. His body couldn’t successfully fight it; he was too worn down by the cumulative effect of his disease.  We had gone from a super high with the walking to a super low, as the reality of him “not making it” set in.  It was a bit of an emotional roller coaster, to say the least: sadness, hope, sadness, hope; stress, relief, stress, relief, stress; so many stays at the hospital with the problems only partially solved, if at all.  Dad was weak, he couldn’t communicate verbally, he was just hanging on, hoping to make it through again.  When one hospital wasn’t doing enough to help him, we transferred him elsewhere.

Thanksgiving with family didn’t happen that year. Mom was at the hospital with dad. I honestly don’t remember what I did with my family unit. It didn’t matter. I was on autopilot, going to work, hitting the hospital or the nursing home on my way home.  One night, about 4 days before Christmas, we conspired to take dad to UC’s Emergency Room. My sister was sure they’d do a good job helping him.  He only stayed about 24 hours. They told my mom that it was time to move towards preparing for his death, to get hospice or some other pallative care program involved. There was nothing they could do. They, in fact, told her she needed to “let go,” that her expectations of dad improving were unrealistic at this point. Ouch. It was like telling someone to give up hope. Dad was transported back to his nursing home, and we all met with the hospice representative on Christmas Eve while dad lay in his bed, very weak and unable to participate. He looked terrible. I know I held back tears, and my sisters likely did too. We made plans to have our Christmas there at the nursing home, bring all the kids and the presents; it would be his last. All of our children had been around a lot, they knew Pa was in bad shape. They’d been drawing him pictures and giving him hugs and listening to us tell stories, as we sat in his room around him.

And God love him, knowing it would be his last Christmas, and Christmas being his favorite holiday, one where he always played Santa, giving out presents from under the tree, wearing his Santa hat, dad conjured up enough strength to get out of bed. We were all very grateful and joyful that day. And on New Year’s Day, a week later, he was sitting up in bed laughing with some good friends there to visit him for the last time. And we all thought, maybe the doctor was wrong, maybe he’d be okay, maybe he’d pull through again. But he wasn’t being treated for anything at that point and wouldn’t be. The goal was comfort, taking in what food he could, seeing how things went. On Jan. 5th, he stopped eating and drinking, no strength to even do that. He was resting, resting in a way that he hadn’t for 17 and a half years.

I think I was there every day after that. I didn’t want mom to be alone when he passed, and I wanted him to know that he was deeply loved and not alone either. And for all the times he had been there for me, had protected and supported me, I owed him at least my presence in his final days. It was hard as hell to watch him slowly die those last eleven days of his life. It was gut wrenching, when I slept the little I slept those days, I would wake up wondering if he’d passed, but then realized mom hadn’t called, so he must still be hanging on.  And I thought of what else I needed to say to him, and there wasn’t anything else. It was just, “I love you, dad, and I’m here for you” on repeat every day. It was holding his hand, gently touching his head, or his shoulder, or his arm, kissing him hello and goodbye, fighting the same sort of tears I have now writing this, until I left and got in my car. He didn’t need my tears. He needed my love and my calm, nurturing presence which I knew how to keep in tact after 17 years of being a therapist. Maybe I had been given all the skills I needed for moments like these. Maybe it was meant to be that mom and dad had raised a treatment team of women to help, to be all the things needed in dealing with a long term, debilitating illness and death. I took some comfort in that.

Dad passed peacefully on the morning of Friday, January 16, 2015, around 10am. Mom was there, but none of us girls. I was on my way and another sister had recently left. Mom said she was sure dad didn’t want any of us to see him die, even though it wasn’t anything he could verbalize. The rest of my sisters were called to come and we hugged and cried and gave dad one last kiss goodbye. His 17.5 years of struggle had come to an end and we were grateful for that, for him to be at peace. We managed to pull off a funeral three days later on Martin Luther King Day. It was beautiful and there were so many people there to pay their respects. Some that I and my sisters had never met came to tell us about how our father touched their lives. And others who we did know, told us things that he had done to help or touch them too. He had made his work colleagues feel safe and protected; he had inspired neighbors with his fighting spirit throughout his whole illness; he had told such great ghost stories when our childhood friends spent the night; he had been a wonderful friend, brother-in-law, uncle, son, brother, supervisor, colleague, neighbor, and resident at the nursing home. Of course he had been, I knew the type of person he was, but it was incredibly touching nonetheless.

My father has left a legacy that continues to grow. He has 14 beautful and amazing grandchildren, ages 1-20, 7 girls and 7 boys.  He always wanted more boys in the family and after his death, 4 of those 7 boys were born, two almost on his birthday. I feel his presence often, I feel his guidance and influence in a way I never would have anticipated. And I am grateful every day that I am his daughter.

Thank you for hearing his story.

May your day be sprinkled with HOPE,

Melissa Adamchik, Daughter of William Wambaugh and 1st Executive Director of the Tristate Trauma Network as of 5/19/15 (exactly 4 months to the date from his funeral)


My Father Was My Hero; He Was Also a Trauma Warrior – Part 4 – 2/12/22

If you’ve  made it this far, you’re a trooper. It’s hard to sit in the space of trauma, but easier when it’s broken up into pieces and not everything that happens is horrible. We were blessed by some good and uplifting/hopeful experiences throughout those 17 1/2 years and this time, I will tell you about THE most uplifting experience, which occurred during my dad’s last year of life. But before that, a few more things to talk about during his years at the nursing home.  The scary, frequent hospital visits started in 2011 and thus in 2011, 2012, 2013, and especially in 2014, time seemed to be marked by those hospital visits.  My father’s body was continuing to break down, to follow the proper trajectory of the disease. The dopamine that used to run like a waterfall when he was young, slowed to a trickle, and this affected various organs and body systems, thus affecting his functioning in significant ways.  He fought so hard during those years to keep afloat.  What do you do when your own body is the opponent in the ring?  Some days, you let it win because you’re tired and worn and the medication cocktail is too sedating.  And some days, you muster up some gumption and say, “I got it. I won’t let this disease take me down.” I wouldn’t have blamed him for doing the first option most days.  But it wasn’t often that he gave up or submitted to the body’s troubles. That wasn’t in his blood. As much as my mom was a caregiver in her core, my dad was a fighter in his core.

Dad would go to the hospital and just when we thought he was slipping away, he’d gather some of his strength back. The hospital experiences were terrible for all of us, and especially dad. He wanted to be there even less than he did the nursing home. For me, it was an emotional roller coaster and I’d go into a heightened mode of stress and vigilance quite frequently. I always wore my emotions on my sleeve and it was easy to see I was affected.  Sometimes I’d fight by gathering more information and pushing for things that might help dad more; sometimes I’d flee by taking long drives; and sometimes I’d freeze for a bit with overwhelm; always I flocked to my mom and sisters so we could support each other. Those frequent hospital visits did afford me and my sisters opportunities to support dad in ways we never thought about when we were younger.  He had a care team of his wife and six other women now, and this included a lawyer, a psychological practitioner (me), a doctor, a teacher, a social worker, and an insurance agent. I was so happy to serve him in this way with my psychological expertise and my understanding of trauma and sensory issues. I had a sixth sense for his suffering and what he needed. I’m not entirely sure how, but I’ll call it a gift. There were many times I happened to call my mother when they were headed to the hospital.  And because I had been given that gift of sensing it, I knew I needed to be there. My sisters and I would all show up at different times at the hospital and do our things. One time, I had to tell the nursing staff that dad was having a panic attack; I also saw him be triggered by various things; he wasn’t being non-compliant, he was reacting to something that felt dangerous. Several times, I rubbed his feet for some soothing touch & relief (he loved it), and I remember how he let out sighs of relief and noises of content when we washed his hair in a special cap that had the shampoo in it. When your body is causing you mostly discontent, you relish those times when body experiences can be taken in the opposite direction. My sister the doctor kept an eye on the medications they gave him in the hospital, told my mom when one wasn’t a good idea, and asked informed medical questions.  My sister the lawyer made sure mom had all the living will and regular will pieces put together. She advised on all things legal. My 1st grade teacher sister and my social worker sister were warm and gentle like you are when you spend lots of time with children; all of us were, we’d been taught well to care for others.  The social worker sister was also a good advocate, right alongside mom. Remember how my youngest sister was 13 when my dad got diagnosed and still lived at home for many years into his  illness? She and my mom developed a very close bond because they had been through a lot of the trauma together. She had that sixth sense about my mom that I had for my dad, and still does. She knows when mom needs something and alerts the rest of us. People have told me how fortunate my dad was to have my mom and all of us to help him during his illness. And I feel we wouldn’t have been good at it had he and my mom not raised us well. I am aware daily how fortunate I am to have had my father and mother as parents.  The next piece of the story will undoubtedly demonstrate that.

In July 2014, my son Myles turned 8 and we had a birthday party at the pool in our neighborhood. Mom brought dad in his wheelchair.  He still came to all the parties, even if he was tired. And this time, as he sat in his wheelchair watching the kids swim and jump into the pool, he managed to eek out of his shallow voice, “I just want to walk again.” That was his wish on my son’s birthday, to get up and walk, after about 7 years confined to a wheelchair. His wish was barely perceptible to my mom and my sister who were right next to him, and they more or less said, “Oh, you want to walk? Okay, let’s do it, let’s get that figured out.”  This is how we approach challenges as a family. Not “that’s a terrible idea that will not work and be way too dangerous,” rather “okay, let’s figure that out.” I can’t tell you how many times that philosophy has come in handy in my work and my life. My son’s birthday is July 5th and although I don’t remember the date of his party that year, I do remember the day my dad walked again: July 28, 2014.  I also distinctly remember the day he stood up again for the first time because I was on the beach in Florida for a family vacation and mom sent photos and video. That was July 14th. So what we have here is a seemingly impossible wish spoken in early July that was fulfilled within the space of less than 30 days.  Say what??  And how in the world did this feat, and we are truly talking medical miracle here, get accomplished?  The power of the human spirit, the power of faith, the power of love, and the power of support…

Enter another person who believes in the power of all those things: the new physical therapist at dad’s nursing home. A young, strong, bright-eyed, faith-filled man. Also know that my mother’s job had been suddenly eliminated one month prior to where she could spend many more hours a day at the nursing home supporting and caring for my father. Then realize that all the necessary pieces for a miracle to occur have been put into place: my dad’s fighting spirit and strong will; the faith of my dad, my mom, we his children, and his physical therapist; the support of all the people around him cheering him on; and the love I talked about in Part 3. Then you will see how a man whose muscles have atrophied extensively, whose body doesn’t know how to support itself anymore, and whose ability to walk in a forward fashion was stymied many years ago by the reduction of dopamine in his brain CAN FULFILL HIS WISH of walking again.  I still get chills thinking about it. If you could have seen the video, you’d have chills too. If you could have seen him walking at different times for the next couple of months, you’d have been witness to this amazing feat and probably called it a miracle too. When we told everyone we knew, they celebrated with us and with him. We were as elated, if not more so, as the time after his first brain surgery, because this wasn’t a scientific or medical procedure that produced this. This was will, this was faith, this was love and support. This was divine intervention and this created hope. My mother later said, “God worked a miracle through dad and the timing was perfect; we all needed it to happen before his death.”

Photo: My mom took my dad to Dairy Queen to celebrate. This is him showing his pride and elation, as best he could with his facial muscles being what they were at that time. This, my friends, is what triumph over trauma looks like. This is precisely why my father remained my hero through his illness. This is how he earned the title trauma warrior. This David Bowie song “Heroes” sung in a slowed, deliberate fashion by Peter Gabriel, captures the wish and the fulfillment of a hero.

Until next time, which will be the conclusion of the story, may your day be sprinkled with HOPE,

Melissa Adamchik, Daughter of William Wambaugh, Trauma Warrior & Hope Ambassador