Monthly Archives: March 2015

What are the “lessons learned” from the tragic death of little London McCabe? “There is ALWAYS another option than taking the life of your child!”

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London McCabe at age 6… “He loved hats and his Dad.”

 

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Yaquina Bridge, Newport, Oregon

 

Response to the tragic death of London McCabe  Quote from the blog post by Catonatrampoline: Autism, Parenthood, and Life…

“Responsibility. Down the line. From organisations to individuals. This is not a comprehensive review of all the factors, I don’t know all the details of the case, I never will, but I do know this: There are always ways that services could have done better, there are always signs that things are starting to go wrong, and there is ALWAYS another option than taking the life of your child.”

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I appreciated the opportunity to speak to the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council (LPSCC) in Lincoln County Oregon.  I started my talk about mental health emergency response and first aid by remembering the painful tragedy of little London McCabe, (click on highlighted text for previous post) who’s mother tossed her sweet little boy over the Yaquina Bridge in November of 2014.  I also related my own story of growing up in a toxic home during the 1950’s and early 1960’s, when at age 10 in 1956, I observed my older brother, age 15 at the time, getting punched with great force in his head by my father and knocked out…head swelling up like a football later. It was a miracle that my dear brother was not killed! My brother was not taken to the hospital at the time for fear my father’s US Navy career would be at risk, including his decorated WWII and Korean War service to America.  Of all the toxic, scary and painful childhood experiences in our troubled home, this is the one that triggers great sadness in my heart almost everyday of my life…

During my interaction with the very caring and passionate public service leaders in the meeting, I spoke of the need for a thorough “lessons learned” public investigation of the death of London McCabe.  It is not clear to me that we have started or completed such an investigation in a public venue with extensive awareness and actions that would lead us to mitigate the risk of a repeated tragedy in the future.  I am confident that everyone in Lincoln County and Newport, Oregon public service connected with police and mental health have done their individual investigations and have taken steps to improve emergency response and first aid to those who suffer from severe mental health challenges.  I listened to several officials in the meeting who discussed, with passion and emotion, the process of building a far more effective layer of emergency response that must be an alternative to calling “911” as the often too little, too late last resort.

As a City Councilor from Depoe Bay, Oregon representing the caring citizens of our town, I walked away encouraged.  But it is clear that we are not able to move as fast as everyone would prefer.  Our community is not unlike many rural areas in America in that we are often caught in a world of “silos” working feverishly in multiple departments of public safety and health, but not as a community force and together as a team, with the power to change up quickly to solve critical problems.

It is my goal going forward to continue being engaged with public safety and mental health resources to tackle the challenges of mental health first aid and emergency response as a whole community.  I also believe it would be profoundly healing and constructive to go back to the London McCabe tragedy to ensure that we have full comprehension of the lessons learned and community agreement on a faster and better path forward.

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1…

City Councilor, Depoe Bay, Oregon

21st Century Community Building in Depoe Bay, Oregon…where all citizens can make a difference…

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Depoe Bay Harbor…Summer on the beautiful Oregon Coast…

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Depoe Bay City Council with Mayor A.J. Mattila …center…click for larger view…

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News from my hometown, Depoe Bay, Oregon  Quote from the News Lincoln County article…

A way forward on harbor issues –

“Depoe Bay City Councilors, noting that plans to upgrade The World’s Smallest Harbor were going too slowly, decided to initiate a “Harbor Summit” to speed things up. They decided that attending that summit will be the Harbor Commission, the Harbor Master Plan Committee, and the City Council. Several councilors cited what appeared to be irreconcilable differences between members of the two harbor committees, something the city council wants to resolve. The council decided on the summit in order to get everyone around the same table and map out what the council believes are the three biggest issues – the need for new dock pilings, new docks in positions 2, 3 and 4 and improvements to the harbor’s fuel dock.

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I love talking about my hometown, Depoe Bay, Oregon!  Judy and I moved to the Oregon Coast almost 10 years ago and have not looked back.  We’ve been blessed to have lived and experienced rural America, including Leavenworth, Washington for the past 25 years.  Smaller communities offer the experience and culture of volunteerism and community service where all citizens can take ownership and make a difference.  If your heart moves you in later life when there is more time to give back, a rural community offers great opportunity and potential to use wisdom and career skill sets to make a positive impact for the greater good.

Judy and I discovered the “magic” of small town living back in 1991 when we left the stressful life of the big city and a world of a high intensity career that became a “burn-out” by the time we reached our 40’s.  We found our dream first in the mountains of Leavenworth, Washington in the north central part of the region.  This is where we fell in love with small town America and the heartfelt rewards of community service.  Now we enjoy an even greater love for giving back living on the stunning Oregon Coast in Depoe Bay, “The Smallest Navigable Harbor in the World.”  We also love the diversified culture of townsfolk, neighbors, and friends who built this community and those who came here later in life like us.  We are all one family thinking and focusing on a better future for our children and grandchildren.  We all play a part in making a difference while enjoying the treasured and unique experience of living in a coastal community.

We explore the coastal beaches, including our own backyard in Little Whale Cove, with every free moment.  The pounding waves at night put us to sleep.  The mild temperate climate is never too hot or too cold.  The sunny warm days of summer and a break from the rain from winter months make this a paradise we truly appreciate.  The winter storms are amazing to experience and sometimes create a little anxiety when occasionally, winds reach 100 mph on the coast.  We are happy to part of positive human connectedness and spiritual growth in our hometown of Depoe Bay, Oregon…  Please come to the Central Oregon Coast and experience the gift of a natural earth energy vortex…food for your soul!

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1…  Click on the highlighted text for my author page…

Councilor, City of Depoe Bay, Oregon

The U. S. Navy’s “Phantom” World War II Hospitals… Where combat weary veterans recuperated and transitioned…coming home…

U. S. Naval Hospital, Shoemaker, California (Photo source: NARA, College Park, MD)

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Click for larger view of Shoemaker US Naval Hospital…

 

“Originally designated “U. S. Naval Hospital, Pleasanton, California”, this 2000 bed hospital sprung up in a vast area of flat land a few miles east of the Oakland Hills of the San Francisco Bay Area. Originally intended to care for people attached to the nearby Construction Battalion Personnel Depot and a Navy Personnel Center, the hospital had 1,000 beds when it was commissioned 1 October 1943. Less than a year later, it had 2,000 official beds, but was capable of caring for nearly 3,600.  Post-war demobilization struck quickly, and the hospital was decommissioned 30 June 1946.”

Post WWII Psychiatric Diagnosis and Treatment for Combat Veterans….  Quote from this website article by Defense Media Network…

“Commonly used therapies in VA hospitals (i.e., US Naval Hospital Shoemaker) during early post WWII years were shock treatments – insulin and electric. Insulin shock was induced when patients received large doses of insulin over a period of weeks, causing daily comas that supposedly would shock the patient’s system out of mental illness.  Electric shock operated on a similar principle of disordering the mind and jolting the veteran out of his emotional distress by electrodes sending electric currents to the brain.”

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My father, Vernon, along with tens of thousands of combat weary veterans came home in 1945, the end of WWII, 70 years ago.  Coming home was not always a celebration for many who were injured physically and emotionally.  Back then they considered “combat stress or battle fatique” to be as serious as being in a state of complete exhaustion and mental stress that required “recuperation.”  Like Dad, most who were considered in bad shape were sent to one of many “phantom”  WWII hospitals for weeks of treatment before being allowed to go home or to be visited by loved ones.  My mother, Marcella, spoke of this time as a very anxious and worrisome period of excitement for Dad’s return home, but fear about his physical and mental condition.  I recall her saying, “we didn’t get to celebrate like others when the war was over.”  This was a time long before medical and mental health science could clearly diagnose Post Traumatic Stress (PTS/PTSD) symptoms that lingered long after the war, often for a lifetime.  When a WWII veteran was actually diagnosed with a severe psychiatric condition, it was considered a non-service related mental health disorder…pre-existing.   Most combat veterans of that time refused to talk about their feelings and concluded it was a problem that would eventually go away.  We know differently now, especially following the Vietnam War.

My father finally decided to get help during the 1980’s when PTSD was officially diagnosed as a combat related mental disorder.  And the good news…he started to get better over time with medications and psychiatric treatment.  It was a more positive time for us as a family and Dad appeared to be on his way to some reasonable peace of mind before he passed away in 1998.  Unfortunately, by the time we were adults, most of the severe damage and dysfunction to our family was done.  It was not until later in my own life that I was able to reconcile what happened to us as a post WWII military family by researching and writing my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story.

Knowing the truth about how war affects the children and families of warriors has given me peace of mind as well.  It is now my labor of love to write about recovering from traumatic life events and to help others learn how to begin the lifelong process of healing.  We discovered as a post WWII family, it is never too late to start the journey of healing…  All the bottled up emotional pain is pure agony until we started to talk about the symptoms and to seek appropriate alternative treatment strategies…  Healing remains a work in progress for most who suffer from a traumatic life event…

Now, 70 years after the end of WWII, we honor the “Greatest Generation” by helping and supporting veterans of all wars who suffer from combat trauma…  As Americans and human beings we are finally getting past the stigma and denial connected with mental health…but we have a long way to go…

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1…  Click highlighted text for my author page…

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Reconciliation: A Son’s Story by Steve Sparks, published November 2011…click the highlighted text for my author page…

 

CBS 60 Minutes…”Coming Home.” Finding a new mission and staying in touch are critical to healing…

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Battlefield Cross…  Click highlighted text for more…

 “Coming Home” a CBS 60 Minutes special…click the highlighted text for program video clip… The interviews are a rare opportunity to learn how these soldiers heal from trauma in life after war…

“Scott Pelley revisits men who served in a Marine company that took especially high casualties in Afghanistan; a group he first met five years ago…”

Christian Cabaniss: “What I really hope is, you know, five years from now, they’re still coming together to see each other, to talk to each other. And they’re talking about their kids and the things that are going on in their lives. So they’ve been able to put that experience in perspective and use it as a foundation. Because I’ve said these kids are our next greatest generation, but not necessarily because of what they did on the battlefield. It’s gonna be because of what they did when they got home.”

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The power of human connectedness in healing from traumatic experiences, including hard combat, comes through clearly in the interviews of combat veterans by Scott Pelley, CBS 60 Minutes.  Survivors from traumatic events in life will be touched by getting to know the veterans in this heartwarming program.  Each experience in life after trauma shows the value of connecting with others, including former battle buddies and trauma survivors, and in seeking a new purpose in life by making a difference for others.  Finding a new mission is absolutely critical in readjusting to civilian life when coming home.  What happens when you get home is what heals minds and bodies after leaving the battlefield.  Soldiers do not have to be alone when coming home and are able to create close and trusted relationships that are crucial to long term mental health.  The emotional pain never escapes completely from a trauma survivors mind, but is kept at a safe distance once becoming passionate about a new mission in life after war…and staying connected with your battle buddies…”puts you back in the right place.”

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1…

Childhood Trauma…”It is not what is wrong with you, it is what happened to you…”

NadineBurkeHarris

Nadine Burke Harris’ healthcare practice focuses on a little-understood, yet very common factor in childhood that can profoundly impact adult-onset disease: trauma.

 

Lifelong effects of childhood trauma…  A powerful TED talk…

Filmed September 2014 at TEDMED 2014

Nadine Burke Harris: How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime…

 

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Not unlike thousands of kids during the post WWII era, I grew up believing there was something wrong with me…  Abused children for whatever reason get stuck with the sad feelings of guilt and constant negative self talk, asking the same question over and over and over again, “what is wrong with me?”  This is a huge barrier to mental and physical health to carry forward in life until there is awareness then healing of a traumatic past.  Most of us survive and thrive carrying around baggage from past trauma, but not without life challenges, and in the worst case scenario severe and life threatening mental and physical health damage. 

I feel lucky and blessed to have discovered later in life the roots of my troublesome and nagging feelings of guilt and poor self confidence.   Although I have no regrets and live with a healthy perspective at this stage in my life…living with a traumatic past is painful.  You really have to work hard to pull up your boot straps each and every day and put forward one foot at a time.  It is a double down process of staying positive and focused on succeeding in life. 

Listen to Nadine Burke Harris and learn more about the lifelong mental and physical challenges of childhood trauma.  Her message will help you become and better parent and a trauma survivor.  Learning the value of awareness and treatment strategies can build a better quality of life, and even save lives.  We didn’t have this kind of awareness during my younger years.  I see now that it is a spiritual gift to know the roots of past traumatic life experiences, including child abuse and maltreatment.  I live today with a peace of mind that only came from my own reconciliation and desire to be free of the emotional baggage of childhood trauma…

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1…  Click the highlighted text for my author page…

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Reconciliation: A Son’s Story by Steve Sparks, published in 2011. Click the highlighted text for my author page…