We are inspired by our patients everyday. Read about some of the brave patients who are sharing their behavioral health story.
Staring at a page of a Pokémon book, Sawyer lifts his arms and legs and waves his hands excitedly. If he could, he would continue pouring over the book for most of the day—never eating, drinking or moving from that one spot in the living room.
The first word Sawyer spoke was “robot.’’ A robot was on television and another was in a book he had seen. He was 19 months old and had made only cooing sounds before that. Sawyer’s parents were shocked that he could make those connections and could actually speak.
At a little over age two, Sawyer was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. He is seven now and works with an aide in his home several hours a week after school where he’s accompanied by a different aide. He practices responding to people who talk to him and calming his occasional urges to flail his arms and legs or cry when he’s frustrated.
Sawyer’s parents, Amy and Eric, focus on the progress they have seen in Sawyer in recent years. He has learned to speak in full sentences, have conversations and look up and respond when someone calls his name. Not so long ago, when asked to stop looking at a book, Sawyer would often scream, cry and sometimes drop to the floor. That seldom happens now.
He is working on better handling his anger and frustration by stepping out of the room or taking a deep breath. And he’s learning to say what is bothering him rather than leave people guessing. Recently a classmate pushed him. “Leave me alone,” Sawyer told him. That was a major feat.
“The world isn’t going to change for him,’’ Amy points out. “The people at Nationwide Children’s Hospital are giving him tools for better surviving and thriving in the world.”
“I want to be in the dark, alone, and I want to be unconscious.”
Leah traces her depression and anxiety directly to her childhood. She moved to Ohio at eight years old when her father passed away from cancer. Her mother had a difficult time coping with the loss and Leah was always afraid something bad was going to happen.
Her mom fatally overdosed on prescription drugs, leading Leah’s aunt and uncle to adopt her. Her childhood trauma has had lasting effects.
Leah says she has always been anxious. But in her sophomore year of high school, Leah’s depression hit what her aunt, Jami, calls a crisis point. She came close to hospitalizing Leah for suicidal ideation.
Leah’s mental illness impacts her entire family.
“The hardest part was just feeling so helpless, like nothing we could do would really help. I’m sure depression is like this for anybody.” Jami explains that it pulls the entire family in “like a black hole.”
Mental illness also carries a stigma.
“It’s something that real that people don’t understand. It’s like a monster—something in the back of your head,” Leah says.
With treatment from Nationwide Children’s, Leah has learned to manage her anxiety and depression. She will need to manage this for the rest of her life.
But her future is bright, and she knows she is strong.
When you meet Marissa, it is hard to believe that this beautiful young lady could have a problem in the world. But the truth is that she knows what it is like to struggle. Unfortunately, 1 in 100 children are diagnosed with autism – and Marissa is that one. Diagnosed with autism at only 18 months old, Marissa was one of the first children to be enrolled in the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a group of neurologically based developmental conditions that are characterized by delays in three areas: language and communication, socialization, and repetitive and ritualistic behaviors. For each child, the severity of symptoms can range from mild to severe.
Growing up, Marissa always knew she was different. She was frequently embarrassed and other kids would make fun of her because of her behaviors. Thanks to her supportive family, the experts at the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Child Development Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and Marissa’s courage and determination, she learned how to be aware of, and control, her behaviors.
The Center provides comprehensive, multidisciplinary care focusing on evidence based treatment, education, research and advocacy for children with the diagnosis of an ASD. Our mission is to provide assistance to every child and family affected by ASD who is in need.
Today, Marissa is looking forward to a bright future which will include the things she has come to love and enjoy like dancing, drawing, singing, traveling, trying new foods, going to conventions, taking care of animals and spending time with her family. And she accomplished something wonderful this year. She graduated from high school with the rest of her class.
Marissa says, “Nationwide Children’s Hospital holds a very special place in my heart. Without their support, I would not be where I am today. It’s been a long, difficult journey but it was worth it in the end.”
For months after her son’s suicide, Denise Meine-Graham hardly made eye contact with people, certain that even strangers in the grocery store, if they saw her eyes, would know she was the mother who failed her son.
My son is dead. It’s my fault and everyone is looking at me. She panicked in the store and held tight to her husband.
At the time, she doubted every decision she had made as a parent: Maybe if we hadn’t moved, if we hadn’t gotten a divorce when he was young, if I hadn’t taken him on a roller coaster as a child …. he wouldn’t have killed himself.
Every thought seemed to lead her back to the question she could not answer:
Why was my love not enough for my son to choose life?
On Aug. 8, 2012, in the early morning, Drey texted his mother: Hey, I love you. Denise thought it was odd, but not too concerning he would text her that message in the middle of the night. She texted him back, telling him she loved him, and got ready for work.
Two months earlier, Drey had graduated from Thomas Worthington High School, where he had been an avid soccer player and earned a varsity letter. He had a job at a car lot and was preparing to start college, a transition he was insecure about. In the weeks before he was to start college, Drey had been angry and depressed, but Denise thought perhaps that was just typical angst for a 19-year-old.
Drey’s father called Denise in the morning on Aug. 8, urging her to come to the house. Immediately. He wouldn’t say what happened. Nor would the many teenagers gathered in front of the house when she arrived and looked at each of their faces, hoping to see her son’s: Where’s Drey? Where’s Drey?
And where was the ambulance? Denise asked the police officer. Why hadn’t they dispatched an ambulance?
“Ma’am,’’ the officer said, “he’s already passed.’’
About two and a half years before he died, Drey seemed depressed and told his mother he wanted to kill himself. But after four months of counseling, his mood improved so much that therapy seemed no longer necessary.
Then, during his senior year of high school, he started drinking. His mother had told him not to and had hoped that perhaps it was a fleeting phase. Drey drank the morning he took his life – after his dad left for work.
Denise wondered how she could continue living, waking with the same thought for so many mornings: How am I going to be alive tonight at dinnertime? The weight of losing her son, she was certain would kill her. Live or die, she didn’t care either way.
Days after Drey’s death, a woman from her church came to visit Denise. Her son had died by suicide five years earlier, when he was in his 20s.
“I couldn’t believe she was dressed, that she had driven to my home.’’
How could someone whose son had taken his own life be able to get dressed, put on makeup, drive, make a casserole? Denise didn’t think she would ever be capable of doing any of those tasks again, but seeing the woman offered a speck of hope that eventually she might be able to function again.
That visit inspired Denise, to start the Franklin County chapter of Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS.) The organization dispatches trained volunteers to the scene of Franklin County suicides to offer support and resources to the victim’s family members, then follows up with them in the months after the death with gift baskets, cards and phone calls.
In Denise’s office, a photo of Drey sits on her desk. In it, he stands in front of a row of trees, arms folded, smiling. Actually, Denise points out, he was laughing at her, as she stood behind the photographer dancing wildly with her arms flailing, trying to elicit a genuine smile – instead of a forced one – for his high school senior photos.
Among the photos she has of Drey, this one she particularly treasures. Because in it, Drey looks at her and laughs.
The Nationwide Children's Foundation serves to further the mission of Nationwide Children's Hospital while meeting donor philanthropic goals. Nationwide Children's Hospital is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (EIN: 31-1036370)