Starting in May, the “Heroes Are Human Tour” will travel to 48 cities from coast to coast, featuring two-hour educational presentations on post-traumatic stress disorder. The tour will highlight the impact of PTSD and how psychological stressors affect the men and women of Canada’s frontline correctional, emergency, and military personnel.
The driving force behind the event is Vince Savoia, a former paramedic and emergency medical dispatcher who understands the toll of PTSD all too well.
In 1988, Savoia was a first responder on the scene of the homicide of 25-year-old fashion buyer Tema Conter in Toronto. Conter was raped and then stabbed to death in her apartment by convicted serial killer Melvin Stanton.
Soon after attending the gruesome scene, Savoia began his long battle with PTSD. Flashbacks, nightmares, isolation, and a hyper-vigilance that almost cost him his marriage were some of the agonizing symptoms that he suffered through.
After contacting Conter’s family, Savoia began his healing process and in 2001 set up the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, as a scholarship fund to help other paramedics and create awareness for critical incident stress.
Since then, he has been raising awareness and developing resources in order to help those on the front lines who suffer from work-related PTSD. The Canada-wide campaign is taking place under the banner of the trust.
“These men and women see tragic events every day,” Savoia said in a press statement.
“They witness human suffering up close and it sometimes becomes very difficult to cope with the aftermath. Smells, sounds, and reliving witnessed events create lasting painful memories that sometimes haunt these men and women for life.”
Actor Enrico Colantoni, the national spokesperson for the organization and the campaign, has himself been active in raising awareness about PTSD since 2011. Colantoni is best known for his role as Sergeant Greg Parker on the Toronto-based television series “Flashpoint,” a drama that has been celebrated for accurately depicting the deep emotional stress of police work.
“When simply doing their jobs means sustaining a life-altering trauma themselves, we owe our emergency workers and military personnel the respect and the dignity of first-rate care, understanding, and support,” he said on the Heroes are Human website.
The event is particularly poignant as Canada marks the end of its 13-year military presence in Afghanistan on March 14. Several suicides by Canadian soldiers in recent months has also highlighted the need for more support for those working on the front lines. Five Canadian soldiers died from apparent suicide in November and December of last year.
The Heroes Are Human campaign also held a symposium on Wednesday called “Helping our Heroes and their Families – Mental Health Awareness Support Symposium,” in partnership with the Toronto Military Family Resource Centre and Operational Stress Injury Social Support.
The event featured an interactive panel of peers sharing their personal stories of mental health issues, struggles with suicidal tendencies, and effective support services. A portion of the documentary, “Speaking Through Silence: The Voices of Children in Military Families Living with PTSD,” was also shown.