Couple offers PTSD therapy in Chandler The Chandler Arizonan

Couple offers PTSD therapy in Chandler

Couple offers PTSD therapy in Chandler

By Srianthi Perera
Arizonan Contributor

A luxurious house in south Chandler is offering treatment to people suffering from post-traumatic shock disorder.

Exhale PTSD Recovery Center, owned by Jason and Tammy Nelson and founded last year, offers trauma recovery in a pleasant, home-away-from-home atmosphere.

“There isn’t a place like this in the Valley,” said Jason Nelson, a recovered burn victim who was scarred mentally and physically from his ordeal six years ago and established the center as a way of giving back.

Though commonly associated with soldiers who suffer trauma in armed conflict, PTSD can happen to anyone, anywhere.

Jason lit a cigarette inside his home garage, not knowing about the gas leak inside. He was engulfed in a fireball suffered burns to 80 percent of his body from the knees to his ankles and waist to face.

His life was saved, but he said he received “zero mental health help” in the Arizona Burn Center, where he spent seven months. “They didn’t support the PTSD; they didn’t address it at all,” he said.

Jason underwent 45 surgeries, most after leaving the hospital.

He didn’t return to his job as a manager at a telecommunications company.

The normal life of earlier days was shattered and he was suicidal.

“There are things done to burn survivors medically necessary to save their lives – dressing changes often, scrub downs, re-bandaging. They’re very traumatic. My PTSD was a lot from that. It wasn’t from the explosion so much,” Jason said.

His family arranged a therapist and after intensive sessions, he made progress.

“This is my sixth year of recovery and finally, I’m to the point of back-to-normal. It took that long, that much counseling, that much therapy to get back to being who I was before,” Jason said. “I’m still not the same person.”

But he wasn’t the only person in the family who suffered PTSD after his ordeal. Tammy, too, began having extreme panic attacks.

“I actually had more PTSD than he had because I saw it all, I heard it all. He was in a coma and he didn’t remember what happened to him, but I was there,” she said.  “I didn’t even know it was PTSD. I had anxiety, I was short-tempered and crying all the time.”

She looked for an out-patient facility to receive treatment but didn’t find one. The Valley offers rehabilitation centers for drugs, alcohol, eating disorders and other conditions, but not for PTSD.

It’s when they decided to create a facility to cure others like themselves, and in the process, help the community that helped them.

The Nelsons first operated Exhale on an outpatient level. Realizing its success, they opened the Chandler facility in 2018.

They are licensed to treat eight individuals at a time and have so far treated more than 30 – all of whom left them glowing reviews. Word of mouth is spreading and sometimes they have a waiting list.

Exhale offers 24-hour nursing care, a behavioral health technician, three therapists, psychiatrist, medical doctor and compliance manager. There’s trauma massage, trauma yoga, art and equine therapies, among others, with all treatments customized to the individual.

“We have the cream of the crop working here. Most of the employees who work here have had their own trauma or PTSD,” Tammy said. “It wasn’t a requirement, but they really do understand more.”

One of the most powerful treatments for PTSD is a psychotherapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR); it involves eye movement, tapping or sound and enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress as a result from disturbing experiences.

Jason and Tammy have both undergone the therapy and attest to its success.

During her sessions, Tammy was shown a photograph of Jason during his early days in the hospital when he was covered in bandages from top to toe. It was a trigger.

“I start crying, sweating and responding. Then we did EMDR. I followed the light, listened to the buzzy,” she said.

Afterward, she was shown the photo again and asked how it felt.

“I feel O.K. It doesn’t bother me. This picture doesn’t bother me to think about that moment,” Tammy said.

PTSD can be a result of experiencing a terrifying event such as the loss of a child, accident, divorce or firing from employment. It can occur in first responders, who frequently encounter and witness disturbing events in the course of their work.

The disorder can manifest itself as fear, panic attacks, stress, tremors and hyper-ventilation.

After EMDR, those memories are still present, but it doesn’t affect you, Tammy said.

Exhale’s patients’ average length of stay is three weeks and after leaving, they are placed into out-patient care with a reputed therapist. They also have opportunities to attend alumni events at the Chandler center.

“Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better because you’re unpacking so much in there,” Tammy said.

“There are times when it gets worse for them periodically and there’s days when I come to visit when there are patients who want to hug me and have a smile on their faces and sometimes when I come in they don’t want to be touched because they’re processing their grief and going through what they did not want to think about and go through,” she said.

“They’re forced to because it’s the only way to get it out.”

Tammy calls it “methods to the madness.”

“It seems crazy but it works. We did it ourselves,” she said.

After his EMDR therapy sessions, Jason came home with a “life-changing” difference, according to Tammy.

In addition to the mental agony, a burn patient is also physically disfigured and the therapy has to help him get past it.

“Once you get past all that and they start loving themselves, he started making jokes about his burns. He went from hanging in the closet all the time in the dark depressed to happy,” she said, adding:

“And it didn’t take long, it didn’t take many sessions to get to that. So it’s how I knew there was something to this.”

“It’s a process but it’s working,” said Jason, who serves on the board of the Arizona Burn Foundation.

Tammy, a former chiropractic assistant, is involved in running Exhale. Her son changed his degree from engineering to psychology because he developed an interest in the topic. Jason’s son is studying psychiatry.

“The tragedy was really tough for us, for our family and our friends, but at the same time, we’re better for it,” Tammy said. “We have more empathy, we understand and recognize people’s traumas. We always say, we don’t regret what happened because it catapulted us into something.”


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