SP. Joao (John) Paula, U.S. Army (Ret)
My name is Joao Paula. I was born and raised in Portugal. I moved to the United States on August 17th of 2002 in pursuit of a better future and lived in Florida until February of 2008. Ever since I moved here this country provided me with an amazing opportunity to a great life, so I decided to pay it back. I’m a United States Army Veteran, First Calvary Division out of Fort Hood, Texas. I decided to enlist on February 28th of 2008 and served very proudly until March 19th 2011. I figured there wasn’t a better way to pay back all the good our country gave me, other than to serve and protect this great nation that I now call home.
During my service in the military I deployed to Iraq during 2009 and went through a lot. Luckily I didn’t get injured like many service members did, but I did see quite a lot of gruesome scenarios. Things that I don’t wish anyone to see. Still to this day there are a lot of memories that are triggered by the smallest things. As weird as it may sound, looking at a baby crib or a stuffed teddy bear brings back some of those memories. The entire time during deployment those scenarios were stuck in my memory and affected me a lot. I was sleeping about two to two and half hours a night. My temper flared continuously and I found myself getting to very dark place.
There was a time I felt like giving up. I sat on my bed with my back against the wall, my 9mm against my head and was ready to end my suffering and pain. I know now that suicide is not the right answer, but at that moment it seemed like the only solution to me. As I sat there I looked at a picture of my wife and I can say it is the one thing that saved my life. I realized I wasn’t ready to leave her yet. I ended up pushing through the rest of the deployment trying my hardest to metalize myself that soon I would be home with my family once again. That was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done.
After coming home; the temper flares, the anxiety, the sleepless nights and horrendous nightmares continued and at times got worst. Quite often I woke up terrified, crying and drenched in sweat because of nightmares that I was having. I never thought that all this was because of PTSD. Since I got out of the military, the same thoughts I had in Iraq have ran through my mind again. I couldn’t control my temper, and it was affecting not only my health
but my marriage as well. My wife was getting tired of the constant bad mood and yelling. I finally realized that I needed help, so I turned to the VA. They put me through counseling and also medications. Neither one helped much. I was diagnosed with PTSD after a few counseling sessions. It got to a certain point that I felt that everything I was doing wasn’t helping. The medications made me sick, and the counseling sessions made me even more depressed. I stopped going to counseling for a while and things got worst.
I turned back to the VA for help and that time one doctor and my previous therapist asked me right away what kind of therapy I wanted to do. Drugs or counseling? I realized then they couldn’t help me anymore. My nightmares got worst and occurred more often. For 7 years I was lucky enough to sleep maybe 3 or 4 full nights. And that was because I either drank alcohol or turned to marijuana.
About a year ago I was blessed to meet Alex Cruz, who, when learned out about by my military service and the issues I was going through for the past seven years, gave me a chance and an opportunity that nobody ever took the time to do. He told me about what he was doing to help veterans through his organization called THE 22 PROJECT and how their treatments has helped numerous veterans by getting their sleep back and also improving many other issues they
were experiencing, along with quality of life. I decided to give it a try, since nothing else that I did before helped. We did a scan of my brain and indeed showed damage cause by the PTSD and TBI. After the scan I began eight week treatment doing hyperbaric oxygen. At first I was wondering about how could going into a chamber help me get my sleep back, but within a week or two I started sleeping great. I started feeling better and more energized. Once I saw the treatment taking effect, I became more and more excited about the results and felt like a new person. I can’t say I sleep a full night every night, but the amount of sleep I get now compared to what I got before is a tremendous difference. It’s amazing what this treatment has done for me. It has given my sleep back, it saved my marriage and I can truly say that it has saved my life. I still have some issues that need worked on, but I’m doing it slowly, day by day and with the help of some great people. The good I got from this treatment is something I wished every veteran out there who has the same struggles could experience.
SSG. Mackenzie Verdi, U.S. Army (Ret)
My name is Mackenzie Verdi and I am a disabled combat Veteran. I served five years in the 101st airborne division as a Military Police officer. During my five years I did two tours in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. I grew in the ranks from a private in charge of a 50 cal. machine gun all the way to a Squad Leader in charge of 12 men.
The first time I deployed to Iraq I was a 50 cal. machine gunner. We were one of the first units to go into Iraq and break the Kuwaiti border. I was in a position where I had to act first. After long days full of action and at the same time not having communication from home, it was very hard to cope with on a day to day basis without the support of my family and friends around me.
My second tour to Iraq was a bit different. Our unit was placed in the middle of Baghdad and we were in constant conflict every day. While I was in Baghdad I was a Squad Leader in charge of 12 men. It was a hard and long 12 months. We were constantly in battle with the insurgency. The things we saw and did you would not wish on anyone. But as you are trained it is you or them. We eliminated a lot of bad people off this planet. After my second tour of duty I received a Bronze star as well as an Army Accommodation award with a Valor device.
After returning home I had to deal with the thoughts, sights and smells I encountered over there. I would constantly be on high guard when I was out in the public. My mood went from always being the funny guy to an I don’t care attitude. My wife hated the person I became. I did not want to socialize nor did I want to hang out with anyone other than my comrades. My sleep was always disturbed by any little sound I heard as well as dreams that made me relive some of the things I did. I was definitely a changed person.
When I met Alex at the 22 Project and H.O.W. it changed me for the better. I started the Hyperbaric and after a good week or so I noticed I was sleeping a whole lot better and that my mood was changing. I had more focus throughout the day and my attitude was that of someone who cared. I started to go back to school which gave me a sense of direction and purpose. If it was not of these programs I do not know where I would be today. It has severely changed my life for the better and I cannot express enough thanks to these wonderful programs.