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

My Father Was My Hero; He Was Also a Trauma Warrior – Part 3 – 2/5/22

Sorry, if you’ve felt “left hanging” for a couple of weeks. My life got very busy and frankly,  I took a break while I was on a mini-vacation.  We all need those breaks from trauma stories, and trauma itself, if we can get them. I’m reminded of the times my trauma survivor clients would come in with other things to talk about, and then they’d admit after a while that sometimes, they just couldn’t “go there”/didn’t want to talk about it that day. It felt like “too much” and I could tell their internal resources were worn.  I’ll admit that too. I tried to start this story about 2 years ago during that trauma storytelling workshop. I was emotionally ready and had a good framework to use after that training, and then when it came time to put pen to paper, I wasn’t ready…because other things happened, including a global pandemic.  My resources were tapped and I had written some things in the workshop journal I received, and then it gathered dust and I moved it out of view. All good, you do what you need to do in processing trauma when you’re ready. I will always honor that. You can be on whatever timeline you want. No need to hurry and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Back to the story…if you’ve been paying attention, you may realize that there are only 7 years left in this story.  My father fought Parkinson’s for 17 and 1/2 years, from age 50-age 67 1/2. And let me tell you, the last seven years were a doozy. In March 2008, there was another defining moment.  I had a 6 yr. old and a 1 1/2 yr. old. I was working in a community mental health center running an early childhood mental health initiative that had recently received a new grant.  My husband was working late every night, kids were in daycare until almost 6pm by the time I picked them up, and we’d have some short, precious time at night after dinner and before bedtime to be together.  My plate was full and I was emotionally and physically pretty well tapped. Then one morning, mom called to let each of us know that she’d decided to put dad in a nursing home.  She’d struggled with this decision, but couldn’t take care of him any longer at home without risking further injury to him or her. He had fallen again.  She couldn’t pick him up, she had hurt her back doing that 2 years prior and had needed back surgery.  She wanted him to have a chance at a longer life. He wanted to live longer, he was sure he could tough it out while the cure for Parkinson’s was found. He believed it was within reach. He believed in lots of things still despite his condition. At that point, dad was low functioning physically and was spending mom’s work day at St. Charles Nursing Home where he could be attended to and socialize. He would be switched to full time care there.

It hit me like a ton of bricks, like a punch to the gut. I understood the reason, knew she’d kept him home too long, totally supported her decision, but still it STUNG. It stung like an actual bee sting in my heart and in my eyes, which filled with tears and turned into a sob as soon as I got off the phone. In my mind, this was “the beginning of the end.” Those exact words came out of my mouth to my husband and to a friend. Once dad went into the nursing home full-time, he was on the path to death. He was 60 years and 9 months old, and that was just too early. Why didn’t he get a life to enjoy after retirement? Why did someone who worked so hard and did so much good for others get dealt this hand?  It was too much sadness for me to bear and I knew it was way too much sadness for him too.

So dad went into the nursing home to live, and that’s where he spent the remaining years of his life, at St. Charles, then at Rosedale Manor when St. Charles needed to make major building modifcations. He didn’t want to be there, who does? In the beginning, he would plead with all of us girls to take him home, to go bring the car up and “break him out” of there. This usually happened when mom wasn’t around. She was his security, his safe base. If she was out of town, which she only did a couple of times in the first year or two, he panicked. He was fully serious about being broken out and I wanted to laugh it off like he was joking, but I knew that was just me trying to set aside the pain of that reality. Within a couple of years, he had to be put permanently in a wheelchair so that he wouldn’t fall, another tick down the path. We all know what happens in nursing homes: there are more residents than the staff can handle, people get left alone, they wait long times for someone to help them because of short staffing and/or lots of needs from the residents. The staff do the best they can, but much like when babies are young and need 1:1 help, people with extremely deteriorated functioning often need and always do best with 1:1 help. In addition to increasing physical mobility issues, my dad had lost much of his ability to speak due to muscle deterioration in his mouth. This was a huge blow for him and for us when he couldn’t communicate well and it got harder and harder to pick up words and decipher sounds.

Mom knew the plight of nursing homes and she didn’t want him to be neglected, especially due to his communication and mobility issues. Her new routine, from day one of his admission, was: go to work in the morning, leave work at 5 and head to the nursing home, have dinner with dad every single night, then hang out with him, take care of him, and put him to bed every single night. Ok, she missed a grand total of like 10 nights in 7 1/2 years. But to me that’s still EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. When she needed something, she’d ask the staff for help. But she didn’t need much; she knew what he needed, that’s what happens after close to 40 years of marriage. So she more so befriended the staff and made them feel good about themselves, because that’s how she operates, the ultimate caregiver. It was in her blood and she truly enjoyed taking care of people. And she trusted the whole time that God had a plan, and that last piece is one of the main reasons that in 17 1/2 years, she never fell apart over this. The other piece that held her together was social and emotional support. And that has borne out in the scientific research of adverse experiences for many, many years.  What I witnessed in her and in him inspired me and kept me from completely falling apart myself, but I did fall apart and get put back together many times with the help of others, including a couple different therapists over the years.  And I adjusted, we all adjusted.

In early 2011, we finally figured out why and how dad had Parkinson’s Disease. Oh it had been a veritable Sherlock Holmes mystery trying to figure that out for the 14 years prior. Was it the pesticides mom & dad had used gardening all those years or some other toxic component in something else that was deemed safe then found later not to be safe, was there a genetic component yet unfounded, was he just unlucky like people who get cancer out of nowhere?  The answers to all of those questions were: “it could be.” I’ll never forget the night my physician sister who was still in the military told us a report had come out from the government letting people know that Agent Orange had been found to be tied to a list of 27 neurological diseases, 27, you bet I counted, and guess what one of them was. I was relieved for about 5 minutes, we finally knew! Then I was angry, very angry at that decision made by someone (or ones) to expose their own people to debilitating chemical warfare. They knew what they were doing, it was meant to adversely affect the enemy in the war. How could they not know it would also affect the soldiers? So they took some responsibility to make it right 40 years later. Gee thanks, that’s great of you. My father is dying after sacrificing his life for his country and being exposed to terrible things in the war, then working 30 years for the same government that, in my mind, betrayed him. And it wasn’t just him with this life sentence.  I shuddered to think of all the families that felt the same. I went to D.C. with my family in 2014 and wouldn’t visit the Vietnam memorial. It was too much for my empathic self.

Speaking of frustration and anger, one of the most interesting and perhaps one of the most awe inspiring things that I learned during my dad’s illness was that strong emotions can supersede depleted functioning.  I saw both ends of the spectrum. The smile he usually couldn’t make with his mouth and facial muscles, would actually appear when someone made him laugh or when the grandbabies came around. And when he was angry, the words somehow formed in a way they usually couldn’t. It was like a light in the darkness. I was happy for that anger.  I didn’t want him to be angry, but I wanted him to function better and for those moments, he absolutely could! And then I saw the best thing of all during this prolonged time of overall sadness that was his disease; I saw how the love of my mother sustained him and how his love for her and us sustained him. How did he stay alive for 17 1/2 years when one year into his diagnosis, he had gone all the way to an advanced state of the disease? How did he survive 7 1/2 years in the nursing home?  LOVE. And mostly their love.  I had witnessed the power of true love first hand, the kind that’s in wedding vows and in fairy tales, the kind that doesn’t change even when your loved one drastically changes, the kind that allows a weak, dying man to squeeze a hand and to form a kiss with his lips to kiss his wife, his children, and his grandchildren. I discovered how love heals and how it lights the darkness.  I’ll leave you with that thought.  We have some more to cover and one thing I learned about treating trauma was that you don’t leave someone wallowing in sadness or with an exposed wound, you leave them with something to hang onto, something that helps them cope until the next session, something to believe in.

I think that Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” perfectly captures their relationship at this stage. Listen if you like.

Until next time, may your day be sprinkled with HOPE,

Melissa Adamchik, Daughter of William & Genie Wambaugh, Ambassadors of True Love