Battlefield Breakthrough is a four-part series looking at mental health and one group's efforts to help local veterans struggling with PTSD. It began on Monday, Oct. 30 and runs through Thursday, Nov. 2.
Tim Chandler started Silent Watch with a goal of bringing awareness to veteran suicide.
Throughout the years, the organization’s reach has expanded. This year, it hosted at least five Silent Watch events throughout the month of September, including ones in Ashland and Mansfield.
As Chandler worked to bring awareness to these issues, he went through treatment for post traumatic stress disorder himself. He used to struggle to sleep through the night without nightmares.
With PTSD, he said, it’s hard to trust anybody, let alone relax and remain calm.
He talked to a slew of counselors, but said they didn’t understand what he went through in combat. None that he saw had served in the military. Doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs prescribed him medication, but he said it made him feel like he wasn’t himself.
Even as he brought awareness to veteran suicide, in 2018, Chandler said he was also looking at ways to take his own life.
Then, a friend — Jane Roland, the former director of Ashland County’s Veterans Service Office — posted a video that changed his life.
The video showed Dr. Sean Mulvaney, a former Navy Seal and U.S. Army physician, talking about his work on Stellate Ganglion Block.
Stellate Ganglion Block, or SGB, has long been a method for treating chronic pain. Doctors give an anesthetic injection into a bundle of nerves called the stellate ganglion in the neck. It can help relieve pain in your head, neck, upper arm and upper chest, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Mulvaney, who’s based in Annapolis, Maryland, discovered by chance that SGB had an impact when it came to treating PTSD.
Somebody approached him about it at a conference, and he tried it on a couple of patients. It seemed to work.
He continued studying that link and in 2019, after nearly 10 years, his work gained traction thanks to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Mulvaney talked about it on 60 Minutes. He presented his research and the treatment received a lot of “buzz” from that national publicity.
Since then, people from across the globe have come to his office in Annapolis to receive the procedure.
The Ashland connection
Roland, who worked as the director of Ashland’s Veterans Service Office, saw that video and posted it to her Facebook page.
She’s been involved with statewide and national organizations advocating for veterans for most of her career. That advocacy continues in her retirement.
“Obviously, you would know that I would have a lot of veterans that I’m friends with on Facebook, as well as a lot of veterans’ advocates,” Roland said. “So I thought, you know, maybe somebody will look at this and it will help them.”
Mulvaney explained to Ashland Source that the SGB treatment resets the central nervous system, which controls fight-or-flight responses. Usually, people flip between fight-or-flight, but that switch can get stuck. That’s what happens when somebody experiences PTSD.
Roland said Chandler was one of her Facebook friends. They graduated high school together. After she posted the video, he called her asking about the treatment.
She said he sounded really cautious about it.
Chandler said after watching that video in June 2019, he did his own research, talked to his wife and eventually scheduled an appointment to visit Dr. Mulvaney on Sept. 10, 2019.
When Chandler went to receive the block, he was anxious. He even questioned whether or not he should get the treatment. His wife told him to do it, convincing him it wouldn’t hurt anything.
“By the time I left that office, I was a totally different person than the one that walked into that office,” Chandler said.
From the Dark Forest to Oz
For Chandler, the feeling of relief was immediate. About five minutes after the procedure finished, he said his mind opened up to experiences and memories he hadn’t thought about since 2008.
He and his wife drove straight back to Ashland from Annapolis. When they returned to home at around 11 p.m. that night, Chandler said he went to bed.
Usually, he said, he thrashed and yelled in his sleep. But that night, Chandler didn’t move.
“My wife woke up twice that night to check on my breathing,” Chandler said. “She thought I had died in my sleep.
“She says, ‘You scared me. You never moved. Nothing. You just laid there. I had to make sure that you were alive.’
“I’m like, ‘Well, at least I know you’re looking out for me,’” Chandler said.
The next morning, he woke up and picked up Hawkins donuts for his family. He called Roland and talked about the happiness he felt.
“It was like the world just came back to life for me,” Chandler said.
He compared it to going from the Dark Forest in “The Wizard of Oz” to arriving in Oz.
Roland said she remembers the call, too.
“For me to tell you he was on cloud nine would be an understatement. He was flying high,” Roland said.
She remembers him telling her the treatment was instantaneous. Roland joined the board of Silent Watch and has since advocated for veterans receiving the shot.
What about now?
Chandler said that Christmas, he fully experienced it, instead of just feeling like he went through the motions.
He said he was on the floor playing with his grandchildren, excited to open their presents.
“I was back to childhood,” Chandler said. “I was loving it.”
The fix wasn’t permanent. He re-upped his shot last year, getting another SGB procedure done. He said the feeling of euphoria wasn’t the same after the second shot.
But, he still feels drastically different from the person he was before receiving his SGB treatment. He said his PTSD symptoms are manageable now.
Chandler told everyone about the procedure — what it had done for him, how it had changed him. He decided he’d help others receive it, too.
If you are in crisis, please call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. For the veterans crisis line, press 1 after being connected. To be connected with resources in your community, you can dial 211.
This independent, local reporting provided by our Report for America Corps members is brought to you in part by the generous support of the Ashland County Community Foundation.