Adrian Marquez’ heroic story began back in June of 2000 when he joined the Marine Corps. His superiors quickly realized that Adrian was an unusual soldier who was gifted with unique physical and mental qualities that would allow him to make a significant contribution in intense and complicated combat situations. Over the next 16 years of post-911 deployment, Adrian served as an operator in Recon Battalion, Force Recon, and as a Marine Raider. During his journey with the Corps he went on several deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other places across the world and was promoted to the Rank of Master Sergeant. By all accounts, Adrian enjoyed huge success during his career and had the opportunity to lead high-risk combat operations with SOCOM (Special Operations Command) that were important to our national security. Master Sergeant Marquez is a hero whose accomplishments in the military have served to make the world a safer place for us and our children. However, the story Adrian really wants to share begins in 2016, when he woke up in so much pain and confusion he struggled just to get out of bed.
“In the Beginning of 2016 my body caught up with me. I had radiating pain down my arm and legs which had continually grown worse. The vision in my left eye kept falling out of focus. My left arm would lose strength and go numb. When I first went to our medical staff I was told my symptoms were ‘probably all somatic and in my head’.” Compared to the rest of his peers, Adrian was still considered very young, fit, educated, and capable by the medical community. But his competence and success, combined with his extensive combat history, worked against him as he attempted to share his personal symptomology with clinicians. He was quickly diagnosed with PTSD, an anxiety disorder, and a depressive disorder with severe somatic symptoms.
When asked about this experience, Adrian speaks with passion about the assumptions medical personal made about his physical and emotional life based exclusively on his status as a veteran. “The clinicians assumed that because I had experienced X, Y, and Z, I must have Diagnosis 1, 2, and 3. I remember watching them go down a checklist. Because I had been in combat and seen these traumatic things, then I was automatically going to be assigned this disorder.” After many months of persistent communication about his symptoms, he finally convinced his medical team to schedule an MRI. After the results of the scan came in, Adrian reports that his clinicians were forced to admit their diagnostic bias and to begin to treat him based on his unique situation rather than on their “cookie cutter veteran treatment protocol.” In a nutshell, the MRI yielded clear evidence of a Traumatic Brain Injury that caused micro-tears across the brain, including the orbital track which was disrupting the vision from his left eye. Four compressed disks in his neck put Adrian in a situation where even a moderate impact would lead to paralysis. The nerve damage from those compressed disks created unpredictable numbness and sporadic weakness in his left arm. He also had a torn labrum in both hips from old mortar damage. “When my medical team treated me based on their own bias about how veterans feel, act, and behave, they missed the diagnosis. When they started listening, I was able to work with them to actually get healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”
Adrian’s story has a happy ending that has tremendous impact on our community. As a result of all his experiences, Adrian has devoted his life and passion to improving the plight of veterans, and other first responders, who have experienced trauma and need support and guidance as they address unique physical and emotional challenges. When he graduated with his Masters in Mental Health Counseling, I was eager to bring him on board as a therapist at Florida Counseling Centers. The opportunity to partner with Adrian and to watch him make a difference in the lives of other men and women who have protected our freedom and served our community perfectly aligns with our mission. Adrian’s real life experiences have uniquely qualified him to spearhead programs like FCC’s Sheepdog Program. The Sheepdog program is designed for veterans, Federal and State Law Enforcement officers, and first responders who have volunteered to “protect the flock.” The sheepdogs of our community. The intention of the Sheepdog Program is to provide innovative treatment approaches for these protectors delivered by professionals who are committed to understanding the character, sacrifices, and motivation of the men and women who have sacrificed so much for us all. As Adrian and I have worked together to develop The Sheepdog Program, we have based our treatment model on these core values:
- Veterans and First Responders Deserve a Chance at Recovery
Traditional treatments for veterans and first responders are insufficient in their efficacy. The first line of defense for most men and women in this community who actually seek treatment is drugs (usually SSRI antidepressants). Research shows that these drugs are just not effective to treat all the symptoms of trauma effectively. One study shows that of veterans who undergo an entire course of treatment with SSRI drugs, only 50% show signs of recovery. The Sheepdog Program is committed first and foremost to this truth: veterans and first responders deserve better than a 50% chance at recovery. While every participant in the program meets with a psychiatrist to address medications and physical symptoms, the goal of the sheepdog program is to address each individual physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. We believe firmly that these men and women will only find freedom going forward as their issues are addressed from a holistic perspective.
- A Culture of Understanding and Empathy
Veterans and first responders are cut from a different mold. They are trained to talk differently, think differently, and behave differently than most other people. They thrive in the context of the team and are able to create profound interdependence and a different level of trust than anything most people have ever experienced before. The situations that are orchestrated from the time of initial training through all forms of engagements on the job create the kind of group cohesion that “Civilian Life” often does not come close to creating. The truth is that there are unique differences people like Adrian share which separate them from the majority of our population. The Sheepdog Program understands this and is staffed by professionals who are committed to listening to and understanding the people we work with. Many who work directly with our veterans and first responders are retired military or first responders themselves.
- Success Requires Creativity and Excellence
A blacksmith won’t use the same techniques for making a spoon as he would to fasten a long sword. We can’t expect the same therapeutic techniques and tools that work for the general population to work for individuals from this population. The sheepdog program uses unique therapeutic interventions to help our program participants find hope and healing. For instance, we have virtual reality software that actually transports veterans and first responders back to the trauma situation in order to address symptoms of post-traumatic stress. We have chiropractic care and massage therapy available to address physical problems and chronic pain. We use yoga and mindfulness-based therapies to help veterans and first responders calm their brains and their bodies. We have classes like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Relationships, Addictions, and Life-Coaching designed to help program participants develop specific skills that they need to be healthy and happy. Our ability to be successful with veterans and first responders is based squarely on our willingness to be creative as we plan each participant’s treatment.
Adrian Marquez’ story has a happy ending. He is using the pain and trauma of his service to be a catalyst for his passion to help our veterans and first responders. If you or someone you love is ready for a happy ending to the story of sacrifice and service, we are ready to help you at Florida Counseling Centers. If you would like more information about how you can connect with Adrian for a free assessment, please don’t hesitate to contact us at 321.259.1662 or visit us on the web at www.FloridaCounselingCenters.com.