CINCINNATI — There’s something called survivor's guilt that some combat veterans live with every day after returning home.
“I had 10 toes and 10 fingers,” said Joey Maiocco, Army combat veteran. “So when I started feeling some initial things, I immediately dismissed it because I thought I had to have these, you know, Hollywood blockbuster moments where I'm, I'm holding my dead friend to really justify any kind of feelings.”
Maiocco, like so many combat veterans before him, pushed down the feelings — ignoring the problem for more than a decade. The heavy burden of post-traumatic stress impacted his life and his family.
"With PTSD, your mind tricks yourself to staying safe," Maiocco said. "And staying safe means isolating, staying safe means, you know, never leaving your house, like all of these things. And it can be suffocating...you feel like you're gonna explode."
Maiocco describes living at a constant heightened state all the time, mimicking the same feeling he had during his deployment to Afghanistan — a feeling that he couldn’t shake no matter what he tried at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center.
For Maiocco, the pandemic became a silver lining to a certain extent. The months of isolation and quarantines during the past year added another layer to what he was already dealing with, or not dealing with, as it pertained to his PTSD. So, he said he jumped online and typed ‘the future of PTSD' in Google, looking for any alternatives to his current treatment at VA facilities in Cincinnati and Fort Thomas.
“I got kind of sick and tired of it and came across the Stellate Ganglion Block procedure as...some other way that wasn't just the VA,” Maiocco said. “I was so used to the VA, and their, you know, prescriptions.”
The Stellate Ganglion Block is an injection of an anesthetic into a bundle of nerves that make up the Stellate Ganglion. The procedure has been used for pain relief for years, but its use with PTSD is a fairly new use and the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn't consider it as an 'established use' for PTSD, saying "evidence is not conclusive."
Maiocco is a journalist with the Scripps news organization Newsy. He decided to pitch his story and the journey to find relief through this procedure as a documentary.
“I knew if I did that, the process would be therapeutic for me personally, but also like sharing that story. You know, I just knew that people, other veterans need to hear it because the suicide rate is terrifying,” he said.
Maiocco will be the first to tell you that no treatment is a one size fits all option. For him, the procedure offered an immediate change and an emotional release within moments of getting the injection.
“The way that they explained it was this Stellate Ganglion Block reset some of that, the amygdala, so your emotions just kind of get back in check,” Maiocco said.
Since receiving the shot, he says he has gone through a 12-week program with the VA for cognitive process therapy to help rewire his brain from the ingrained habits developed from living in that heightened state for so long.
“My brain has been trying to keep me safe, but in a sense, it's been so limiting that it's suffocating," Maiocco said. "And that's where I think a lot of vets find themselves. They feel like, 'I can't get free, I'm stuck, I'm suffocating,' and they don't know a way out."
Maiocco said he does not know if he’ll have to get another shot down the road, but he has heard of veterans getting an additional shot. As he continues his healing journey, he hopes other veterans do their own discovery and research to find what works best for them.
Watch Joey Maiocco’s documentary on the procedure and learn more about his journey here.
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