“One minute you are enjoying your life, and the next people are dying all around you and you are running for your life. It leaves a permanent mark.” ~Priscilla Horvath, Heroes on the Water Volunteer Program Coordinator
June is Post-Traumatic Stress Awareness Month, a time that highlights the importance of mental health awareness specifically in terms of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) which can occur after a person has experienced a traumatic event or prolonged trauma. PTS impacts many people through many ways – combat trauma, cumulative post-traumatic stress, and event-related. Heroes on the Water’s Volunteer Program Coordinator, Priscilla Horvath, is unfortunately very familiar with how a normal event can turn into tragedy.
Priscilla has dedicated a great deal of her adult life to assisting military personnel and families dealing with the realities that come along with military life. During her time living in California, Priscilla worked as a government contracted Family Readiness Support Assistant, a job that she found incredibly fulfilling. “I walked families through the process of deployment. It can be a hard process at first and can leave people feeling lonely.” While she began her position assisting the families of 50 soldiers, the number soon ballooned to 500 soldiers’ families – people she keeps in touch with to this day. “I never wanted anyone to feel the way that I felt during deployments,” says Priscilla, “I wanted people to feel cared for. I would open my home to my families for events every month and we would just talk about our experiences and share information and that was really helpful for everyone. My favorite thing was seeing the smiles on their faces and knowing that they realized they weren’t alone in all this.”
Priscilla moved with her family to Las Vegas 13 years ago. On October 1st, 2017, she experienced events that would change her life and the lives of her loved ones forever when she was in attendance at the Route 91 Festival – a three day country music festival with thousands of attendees. On the final night of the festival, Priscilla attended after receiving some last-minute tickets. During that show, a gunman opened fire injuring 500 people and taking the precious lives of 60 victims. So many people’s lives would never be the same.
One of the most haunting moments for Priscilla happened as she was fleeing the gunshots. A girl who had been hurt, reached for her hand and Priscilla froze. She says in a split moment, she just ran. “I lost my friends I ended up coming out one of the side gates I remember running people were dropping. There was a girl next to me she had gotten shot. I paused and she reached her arm out asking for help. All I could do was run away. Because I wanted my own safety, I left her.” Luckily, the girl survived, but this memory haunts Priscilla, often leaving her almost completely debilitated from the impact. As with most who suffer from PTS related to a situation where many lost their lives, she suffers from survivor’s guilt.
After that night, everything changed for Priscilla who says that she stayed in her home for over a year. “For the first year, I became a hermit. I couldn’t do fireworks, I couldn’t do large crowds,” she says, “I went to a therapist the morning after the shooting and it made me feel more alone, they didn’t understand what I had experienced because they had never experienced anything like that.”
Journey to Wellness
Due to an increase in awareness in recent years of how PTS symptoms can impact people, there’s been an expansion in programs and education surrounding PTS and positive, healthy ways to cope. For Priscilla, finding events centered around her specific experience actually led to healing. “It took me a year to actually just go and be with other survivors,” she says, “People like me who understood what I was feeling and what I had experienced.” Priscilla says these new relationships helped her realize that she is here for a purpose. She met a survivor named Melinda who helped her work through her guilt and realize that she survived for a reason. “She always tells me ‘Priscilla, I love you. You’re here for a reason.’”
Priscilla believes that Heroes on the Water provides a similar type of wellness by providing camaraderie of a shared experience. “Being around others who understand and empathize is powerful. It helps you see things through a different lens and find a new purpose. That is what HOW does for our participants.”
Finding Positive Ways to Cope with PTS
At times, coping with PTS can seem like an uphill battle for some, but having resources, communities and other outlets where you can freely express those emotions is key. For Priscilla, the measures that the community of survivors and the city of Las Vegas has taken to memorialize victims of the October 2017 mass shooting have been a huge help in her healing journey. “There’s a candlelight vigil at the healing garden, an annual 5K and a gathering at Stoney’s that is only for survivors and close family members of survivors,” Priscilla says, “When I went to my first Route 91 event after the shooting, it was hard, but it was healing. Every year I do the 5K and I go to the healing garden. I’ve met so many other survivors that my circle has grown. When I’m triggered, I have that outlet to call and they understand me.”
In the years since the event, Priscilla has stepped further into her purpose and has become part of the HOW Team. “I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to go to war or to be on the battlefield, but I do know how lonely experiencing trauma and PTS can feel,” says Priscilla, “I understand why a program like Heroes On the Water works so well for so many people. Our veterans, first responders, their families and many of our volunteers have a common experience that nobody else has unless they’ve been in the same shoes.”
PTS Awareness Month
Post-traumatic stress studies found that a staggering 6% of the adult population, 12 Million adults, in the United States will experience symptoms of PTS at some point in their lives, that’s 6 out of every 100 adults. Chances are that someone you know has experienced symptoms of PTS which can include everything from flashbacks, night terrors, hypervigilance and loss of sleep to more physical symptoms like body aches, tension headaches, and much more.
Read our resource blog: 4 positive ways to cope with Post-Traumatic Stress
Heroes on the Water works diligently to provide programs that help combat the symptoms of post-traumatic stress through our kayak fishing experiences. Learn more about our programs for veterans and first responders, and feel free to donate to support our community of heroes. Without your support, they struggle to heal. Give back to provide a little peace to those who serve us.