The 2020 Wounded Warrior Run team arrived in Nanaimo this week on their mission to help soldiers and emergency responders deal with mental trauma suffered in combat and experienced on the job.
On the team of eight runners this year is Mark Blachuras, a B.C. Ambulance Service dispatcher who suffered stress from an emergency call he took a little over a year ago, not long after he moved to Nanaimo.
“I was a 911 dispatcher and call-taker and took a call here in town, which was pretty tragic and it affected the whole community,” Blachuras said.
After dealing with the call, Blachuras said he didn’t realize he’d suffered stress-induced harm until symptoms began to surface that included impairment of his memory, which is critical to his work. He also had difficulty with concentration, was losing weight because he wasn’t eating and instead of getting proper sleep at night he’d wake up every hour sweating and in a state of panic.
His manager forced him to go home and take time off.
“It forced me to take some time off and get some help, which was monumental for me,” he said. “It made my time off a lot less and it gave me tools how to move forward. It wasn’t just about getting me back, but prolonging my career as a paramedic.”
At the time Blachuras received help through services facilitated by his employer, but now, paramedics can also seek help through programs provided by Wounded Warriors Canada. The run’s stop at B.C. Ambulance Service Stn. 122 on Friday was special because of a signing ceremony that formalized the relationship between Wounded Warriors Canada and the B.C. Ambulance Service.
“This is the first time this kind of partnership agreement has ever been signed in B.C. with paramedics,” said Jacqueline Zweng, Wounded Warriors Canada ambassador and run coordinator, at the event.
She said Wounded Warriors Canada provides clinical, best practices and evidence-informed care to create an environment of compassion, hope and resilience for participants, but no single service, association or government agency will ever be a 100 per cent solution for the health and wellness of its members so partnerships such as the one signed Friday are vital and Wounded Warriors has established formal working relationships with 50 organizations across Canada to add its services as an additional layer of operational stress injury support for their members.
The 2020 run is also the first to have a full-time paramedic as part of its support team, a position filled by Aggie Pringle, community paramedic and unit chief from Sayward, B.C., who also helped organize the support agreement.
“We’ve lost too many. We don’t need to lose any more,” Pringle said, referring to first responders suffering from mental trauma who, in extreme cases, have taken their own lives. “We’ve done a lot of work, but there’s still lots to do and today is a step in the right direction, but it’s not the end of the journey.”
The agreement was signed Friday by Zweng and Troy Clifford, provincial president of Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. CUPE 873.
“This run’s huge for me because I’m thankful today that I’m able to do this run,” Blachuras said. “I never thought that I’d be able to do this. I hope that I’m not only a symbol of hope to help my teammates get through this, but I want to be a symbol of hope for anyone else who’s sitting there struggling at home because I know, at this very moment there are people, including paramedics who work for this outfit who are at home struggling.”