Trauma Response to the Damar Hamlin Incident on 1/2/23


January 3, 2023

LETTER TO THE CINCINNATI AREA MEDIA RE: Trauma Response to Damar Hamlin’s Medical Incident

Many in our community and beyond (all those watching on TV and waiting or seeing it on social media after the fact) have experienced strong emotional and even physical reactions with the terrible and tragic incident befalling Damar Hamlin on the field of the Paycor/Bengal’s Stadium on Monday evening.

What you are feeling is VICARIOUS or SECONDARY TRAUMA. You are witnessing the threat to the life of another person. We have mirror neurons that exist in our brains strategically located behind our eyes. These neurons allow us to experience what other humans experience. They are wonderful for building empathy and understanding another’s experience, and for sharing in someone’s joy, but much harder to manage when the experience shared is fear and sadness and when the eyes (and whole body) watch a tragedy befall another human. Your responses of your own fear, terror, sadness are normal reactions to witnessing a trauma (or experiencing one first-hand).

So first, please do yourself the favor of acknowledging that what your body and brain are doing are EXACTLY what they are supposed to be doing in service of survival. The fear or survival responses we are mostly aware of are FIGHT, FLIGHT, and FREEZE. In addition, there is one called FLOCK.  FLOCK sends us to others for safety and confirmation of our experience. All the talking about and posting on social media is inviting our FLOCK (others in our circle) to help. This is a NORMAL SURVIVAL RESPONSE.\

Some will move into Anger or FIGHT, making accusations of the players involved, the football establishment, the coaches, the whole NFL, anything in the environment that could have a part of the tragedy. Some might even throw things in anger and frustration at the lack of general protection for this young man. This is also a NORMAL response.

Some wanted to run from the stadium or from the viewing of it on TV or another device. They don’t’ want to see it again, talk about it, re-live it. This is an example of FLIGHT and is also a NORMAL response to witnessing tragedy or trauma. Some were FROZEN, didn’t know what to do, say, think, had to stop completely because it was so overwhelming. This is also a NORMAL response.

You can have one or many types of responses to witnessing (secondary) or experiencing first-hand, a trauma. ALL ARE NORMAL AND OKAY and need to be acknowledged as such. 

The goal of the body and brain in the aftermath of a trauma is to RELEASE the energy generated during its survival response. And to CALM the body, bringing it back to a state of equilibrium or regular nervous system responding. There are a few things that usually work to calm everyone: 1) deep breathing, 2) rhythmic movement (e.g., walking, running, dancing to a beat, drumming) or 3) rhythmic language (praying). 4) Talking with your FLOCK about your feelings during and after the event also helps.\

Feel free to utilize the trauma related Resources at:  for gaining knowledge, coping skills, and professional help if needed.

In Hope and Healing,

Melissa Adamchik, MA, LPP

Licensed Psychological Practitioner

Executive Director, Tristate Trauma Network

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”

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

Simple Ways to Look and Feel Your Best During Times of Trauma – 5/2/22

“Simple Ways to Look and Feel Your Best During Times of Trauma” was submitted to us by a Guest Blogger. We welcome your submissions via email and will review them for appropriateness for the blog.

Experiencing a traumatic event may affect how we think and feel, as common reactions to trauma range from depression and anxiety to insomnia, fatigue, body shame, and backaches. However, caring for our minds and bodies can help to reduce some of the physical, mental, and emotional symptoms of trauma. Here are a few suggestions from the Tristate Trauma Network.

Get a Massage

Whether you book an appointment with a professional or treat yourself to a DIY hand or foot massage at home, massage therapy can help those experiencing trauma in a number of ways. For one, massage reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and anger — and it helps to alleviate pain, headache symptoms, and muscle tension. Massage therapy can also help to improve sleep, circulation, and digestion.

Move Your Body

Whether you sign up for a Zumba class or play tennis with a friend, there are physical, mental, and emotional benefits of engaging in regular physical activity. According to Healthline, these benefits include a healthier weight; stronger muscles and bones; improved mood, skin health, and sleep; and better brain function. Plus you don’t have to love exercise to reap these benefits: Physical activity can mean anything from roller skating or dancing to taking a walk or riding a bike.

Keep Stress Under Control

Chronic stress is harmful to your health, and it can also wreak havoc on your skin — causing dryness, acne, premature aging, and brittle nails. And while appearances aren’t everything, how you look often affects how you feel. Here are a few things you can do to keep stress under control when coping with a traumatic event:


  • Practice deep breathing exercises.
  • Engage in mindfulness activities such as body scanning, art therapy, or crafting.
  • Write in a journal.
  • Accept support from loved ones.
  • Eat stress-relieving foods such as whole grains, tuna, walnuts, dark chocolate, and kimchi.
  • Soak in an Epsom salt bath.

If stress is keeping you up at night, there are some additional steps you can take to reduce stress and unwind before bed. As a few examples, try reading a book, listening to a sleep meditation, and turning off all electronics an hour or more before bedtime.

Update Your Look

Change is sometimes necessary after you’ve experienced a traumatic event, and one easy way to go about doing this is to update your appearance. Purchase a dress, sweater, or another new piece of clothing; experiment with a new hairstyle or hair color; or wear a bold shade of lipstick, eyeshadow, or nail polish.

If you’re overweight or underweight, this could also be a good time to prioritize healthy eating, physical activity, and stress management. Doing so will help you to achieve your fitness goals, whether you’re looking to lose or gain weight, build muscle, or adopt healthier eating habits.

Speak With a Therapist

Trauma therapy is another self-care strategy for those coping with traumatic events, as the goal of therapy is to reduce fear and negative thinking, improve confidence and coping skills, and overcome trust issues. To find a therapist near you, visit the Tristate Trauma Network’s Trauma Therapist Listing.

Learn a New Hobby

To build self-esteem post-trauma, try taking up a new hobby such as dancing, skydiving, traveling, martial arts, performing arts, or public speaking. Some other options could include gardening, cooking, reading, or knitting.

Feel Good About Yourself Post-Trauma

Experiencing certain types of traumatic events can have a negative impact on your self-esteem and self-confidence, but the above-mentioned self-care practices will help to boost your mood, reduce negative thoughts and emotions, and improve how you feel about yourself. It’s normal to experience negative thoughts and emotions following a traumatic event, but recovery is possible.

The Tristate Trauma Network (TTN) provides training to service-industry professionals, helping to build community awareness on the role trauma plays in our lives. Visit to learn more, or contact TTN by email

Wishing you a day filled with HOPE,

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

The Hope Chest Playlist (the first 6 months) 3/27/22

As you may have gathered from reading the posts, I love music. It speaks to my soul and I’ve done a lot of adding songs to go with the posts I’ve made for The Hope Chest. I even go back and listen to some of the songs on the posts for inspiration.  When I took down a list of the songs wondering if they’d be a nice compilation, turns out they did make a nice playlist! Come back to this post and click on the links when you need that type of survivor, hopeful, deep, soul-searching inspiration and music in your day 🙂 I know I’ll be a frequent flyer here! Thank you to all the great musical artists who lay out their emotions in song, and courageously put their souls into these pieces.

  1. “Stand By Me”- Ben E. King
  2. “Brave” – Sarah Bareilles
  3. “Fire Away” – Chris Stapleton
  4. “I Will Survive” – Gloria Gaynor
  5. “Warrior” -Scandal ft. Patty Smyth
  6. “There Goes My Hero”  – Foo Fighters (R.I.P. Taylor Hawkins, drummer)
  7. “Holding Out for a Hero” – Bonnie Tyler
  8. “You Will Be Found” – Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack
  9. “A Change is Gonna Come” – Sam Cooke
  10. “The Dog Days are Over” -Florence & The Machine
  11. “Still Standing” – Elton John
  12. “Eye of the Tiger” – Survivor
  13. “You Raise Me Up” – Josh Groban
  14. “Heroes” – David Bowie, sung by Peter Gabriel



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

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


My Father Was My Hero; He Was Also A Trauma Warrior – Part 2 – 1/19/22

Thank you for continuing to read and “hear” my father’s story.  As most would guess and some have experienced, a major illness within a family typically qualifies as “traumatic.” Traumatic basically means there has been a threat to one’s life and one’s sense of safety and security.  There is a sense of doom and gloom, of the unknown and the yet to be seen, but also the “I can’t believe what I’m seeing” aspect. There is an astonishment of the major changes that occur to the person with the disease.  Thoughts like: “Their functioning is so deteriorated, will they be okay? Will they ever be the same again? Will they suffer a lot?” Within the patient, there is also: “I can’t believe what I’m feeling, this is very different” and “Who am I with this disease? I am not the same.” And for both the patient and the family: “HOW and WHY did this happen and what will happen next?” In terms of trauma, was having Parkinson’s Disease a threat to my father’s life? Yes, there was no cure and it’s a progressively debilititing disease. Was it a threat to his sense of safety and security? Yes. He could no longer rely on himself to protect himself from harm; he was also used to protecting others from harm and that was no longer possible the way it used to be. Try wrapping your head around that reality when your career and livelihood are made up of protection roles, not to mention your sense of self as a protector of your family, which he took very seriously.  Was my father’s illness a threat to me? Yes, not physically, but in the sense of it meaning there was a threat to someone of major significance in my life, someone whose presence and well-being afforded me a sense of safety and security, even as an adult.  My father was forced to look at himself differently, and I was too. And that was just plain sad and depressing for both of us. He told me tearfully one day, he couldn’t believe his “babies” had to help him get out of bed.

But then, about a year into the journey, a glimmer of hope appeared: his neurologist at UC told him about an experimental brain surgery that had gained some traction because Michael J. Fox had had it and it had been successful. Mom and dad researched the information available on it and decided it was worth trying. Mom then had to fight the Insurance company for approval. Thankfully, she won that battle. In August 1999, my dad underwent deep brain stimulation surgery.  The night before, we had a head shaving party for him and my husband, who had been balding since age 17 and sported a shaved head most of the time, did the honors. All of us were there to support dad, and I stayed for the surgery and days following.  My two sisters closest in age to me lived out of state, and the three younger ones were still at home and had school obligations, plus they weren’t adults yet, this was not for them to do. I’ll never forget seeing him in the brain surgery “gear” that looked like a cage around his head with places where it was tightened with screws. To me, it looked like a crown of thorns, and I thought that was a pretty good representation of the suffering endured thus far, and the suffering I sensed would be endured before he got all the way through this chapter of his life. I shook the thought away and kissed him on the cheek and squeezed his hand before he went back.  Something AMAZING happened that day! Surgery itself was successful and the intervention was wildly successful beyond what any of us imagined.  Our dad started “coming back” and he was able to DANCE at my sister Sandi’s wedding in late September! He wanted to buy the shoes he rented with his tux for her wedding, he called them “magical shoes.” He hadn’t danced in 2 years and he was a great dancer, having taken ballroom dancing as a teen/young man. It was a glorious and hopeful time. We celebrated his increase in functioning with all of our family and friends. I celebrated it daily in my head. It went on for a good two years.

A pause here for one of dad’s favorite songs from his favorite movie, “Rocky.” It was his personal anthem and it became our anthem for his journey:  “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor  and what a survivor he was!

The body and brain can do some amazing things, but there’s a bit of a time limit to all things. We are, in fact, only human. The decline started again. He was approved for surgery again, to have the deep brain stimulation done on the other side of his brain, in the hopes of a similar outcome.  It didn’t take. It’s unclear why, but it was for sure a dashing of hope for all of us.  But we moved on and forward. Mom and dad had joined an extremely supportive Parkinson’s Diesase group and were finding their people to talk with and share with.  They could be spokespeople for the surgery, having been through it, and there’s nothing my mom likes more than helping others in any way she can. So there was “new life” there, and of course, we all continued on with our lives, reaching milestones such as graduations from high school, college, grad school, medical school, and the first grandbaby was brought into the family in early 2002: my daughter, Madilyn. We were living in Arizona at the time and came home in late 2002 as things worsened for dad. I didn’t want to raise my children without their grandparents anyway, nor did my husband.  All the sisters who were living away at that time started making their way back home.  My dad was still talking and able to be playful when Madilyn was an infant and into her first couple of years. The joy my dad had holding and interacting with her was priceless. We had made the right decision for sure. My older sister and her husband moved back at the same time we did with their daughter, who is just 6 months younger than mine. And my third sister soon got herself transferred to the closest air force base in Dayton, OH.  No one was more than 2 1/2 hours away and we had family celebrations quite often, for holidays, graduations, weddings, and all the birthdays in our extended, growing family.  Having everyone together was dad’s favorite thing. By 2008, there were six grandchildren (4 girls and 2 boys) and five of the six of us were married. The babies’ presence always brigtened up dad and we brought them around as often as we could. We had all adjusted to the “new normal,” as much as anyone can. Dad was losing more capabilities and he and mom were living alone, empty-nesting for the past few years, as my youngest sister had been away at college more than she was at home. Mom went to work every day and dad called her if he needed anything. She worked less than a mile away and could be home quickly. Then in March 2008, another major milestone in dad’s illness, leading to another major change in his life (and ours) occurred.  He was 60 going on 61…


Until then, May Your Day Be Sprinkled with HOPE,

Melissa Adamchik, Daughter of William Wambaugh: U.S. Army Veteran, Retired IRS Special Agent, & “Pa” to his beloved grandchildren