SARANAC LAKE - Nearly 140 years ago, Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau came to the Adirondacks expecting to die from tuberculosis.
But not only did he cure; he cured countless others with his pioneering research, treatment and the sanitarium he established. This center for healing quickly exploded into a village, with Trudeau as its first mayor.
On Tuesday, Trudeau's great-grandson, Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, made a rare public appearance in the community where he was raised to build support for a project that organizers say could once again make the village a center for healing.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
Patriot Hills at Saranac Lake, a proposed respite and reintegration center for active-duty soldiers, veterans and their families, held its first major local event, a half-day forum at the Trudeau Institute titled "Soldier Resiliency: A Fresh Approach." The program, which included two U.S. Army generals, experts in the field of post-traumatic stress disorder and other speakers, focused on the stresses faced by soldiers returning home from war, two unique treatment methods that could help them, and the Patriot Hills model.
Trudeau, who has focused on veteran and "wounded warrior" issues in his comic strip and other writings, opened the event with a strong endorsement of Patriot Hills, calling it "a return to the healing ethos for which Saranac Lake was once world-renowned."
"I was only invited a short time ago to join in this effort but its been enough time to see the extraordinary opportunity that the Patriot Hills initiative represents," Trudeau said. "It's not crazy to imagine that this kind of fully integrated approach could serve as the template for other regions and states."
As he spoke, Trudeau stood at a podium below a large portrait of his great-grandfather. He described how Edward Livingston Trudeau came to the Adirondacks suffering from tuberculosis "in the expectation that he would die."
"Instead he found hope, healing, life and a mission in a place of absolutely soul-stirring peace and beauty," Trudeau said. "There's now a new generation who needs that kind of sanctuary, men and women who have served their nation well but have suffered grievous wounds and deserve the healing power this kind of fully committed community steeped in best practices can bring to bear."
Later, in a roundtable discussion with reporters at the Saranac Lake Free Library, Trudeau acknowledged the historical significance and the "symmetry" involved with his support of a new kind of "healing" project in Saranac Lake, a community his family helped to create.
"It gladdens me to have an opportunity to be involved in that family tradition," Trudeau said. "Up until now it has merely been as a board member and a leader at the (Trudeau) Institute. This is obviously a very different undertaking. But I'm glad to be contributing to the community again."
Tuesday's event was also a rare public appearance for Trudeau, who maintains a low profile and rarely grants interviews. He admitted that he probably wouldn't have become involved if he hadn't been invited to do so by Patriot Hills organizers.
"You can't underestimate the value of being asked," he quipped. "I haven't done a lot of public efforts anywhere; I'm hoping to continue that tradition."
He only described himself as a "friend of the Patriot Hills project," but Trudeau played a key role in organizing Tuesday's event. He said he's talked extensively with soldiers and their caregivers over the years, and he has made connections to military leaders and experts in the field of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury and other war trauma. Trudeau invited several of those people to Saranac Lake on Tuesday.
"Garry Trudeau has brought so much insight and capacity to this idea because of his connection to the military folks that we don't have locally," said Susan Waters, a former village trustee who was announced Tuesday as the executive director of Patriot Hills. "He has really broadened the scope of this, and it's going to help us a great deal going forward."
Brig. Gen. Loree K. Sutton, the highest ranking psychiatrist in the U.S. Army, said it will take more than just treatment to cure the "invisible wounds" of war like PTSD. Repeating a theme that ran throughout the day, Sutton said the community plays just as important a role in the healing process.
"We're all in this together," she said. "It is through communities like Saranac Lake that we are going to meet that challenge."
Sutton said the 2007 neglect scandal at the Army's Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. was a wake-up call to military leaders about the "rehabilitation leg" of warfare "that we really didn't know much about." The Army now recognizes that the "psychological, moral and spiritual injuries of war are on par with the physical injuries" and has invested $600 million in resources to help close that knowledge gap, Sutton said.
She said communities like Saranac Lake can play a central role in reintegration of the troops, many of whom are having a very difficult time making the transition to life at home.
"It's tough adjusting from being a target to shopping at Target," Sutton said.
Maj. Gen. Robert Kasulke, commanding general of the Army Reserve Medical Command, said many reservists are returning home from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and having difficulty finding mental health and other services they need, especially in rural areas.
"That's why a program like (Patriot Hills) will come in handy as it evolves," said Kasulke, who practiced medicine with the Saranac Lake Surgical Group in the 1980s. "We need to bring those quality services to communities like this. If it is easy to get to, it will be used."
Two programs that could help wounded warriors, and could become part of the Patriot Hills model, were outlined during Tuesday's event.
Laurie Leitch and Elaine Miller-Karas, co-directors of the Trauma Resource Institute, described their "Trauma Resiliency Model," which they've used to help heal survivors of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the 2004 tsunami in Thailand and other natural disasters. Now they're working with the Veterans Administration.
Leitch described war trauma as a public health issue of "epic proportions," noting there are high rates of unemployment, homelessness, divorce and domestic violence among veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A 2008 study found about 300,000 veterans of those wars were suffering from PTSD or major depression.
The biologically based "Trauma Resiliency Model," which is being taught to veteran advocates around the country, focuses on stabilizing the nervous system to decrease the debilitating effects of combat zone trauma.
"The human body has an inner capacity to heal and restore itself," said Miller-Karas.
"What we're promoting is a new paradigm," said Leitch. "There aren't enough individual therapists to meet the needs of our veterans."
Edward Tick, founder of Soldier's Heart, a therapeutic program focused on post-traumatic stress disorder, also delivered a presentation at Tuesday's event. His six-step program centers on healing the spiritual wounds of war.
"We are supreme at creating an excellent fighting force, but we are woefully negligent toward our combat veterans when it comes to healing," Tick said. "If we recognize and treat the wounds of PTSD early, many of those wounds would not develop."
Tick said the community must play a role in healing veterans, noting that Saranac Lake already has an "established multi-generational healing tradition." Patriot Hills could set a standard for veteran care for the whole country and the world, he said.
Col. Eric Olsen, a Saranac Lake resident who is New York state chaplain for the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs, talked about the vision of the Patriot Hills project. He said Americans have a responsibility to help bring veterans home.
"We want to create a place where these people can come back and be safe and interpret the changes that have manifested inside them," Olsen said. "There's nothing as loud as silence to the wounded heart."
Patriot Hills organizers want their programs to be located in a yet-to-be-developed hotel and conference center facility somewhere in the village. Olsen has run programs for soldiers at large hotels in different locations around the state, but he said those places "don't speak their language."
"We need a place that speaks their language," he said. "We have to build an interpretive center, a place where the community can come and learn, and the soldiers can learn that they're not really alone."
Asked if the project's supporters have partnered yet with a hotel developer, Bob Ross of St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers in Saranac Lake, a key player in the Patriot Hills project, said they're beginning those conversations. He stressed, however, that organizers want to establish the concept and structure for Patriot Hills before they focus on a location.
"We don't have a particular site, a particular developer or company that provides hotel services," Ross said. "But we think we have a vision of something that would be military-family friendly, and something that would allow things to happen on an ongoing basis in Saranac Lake as opposed to a road show, which is basically what Rev. Olsen does now."
Ross said Patriot Hills is already organizing programs for soldiers and veterans, even without a permanent location. A retreat for soldiers and first responders at Paul Smith's College is planned next month along with a separate program designed specifically for women soldiers.
Patriot Hills is seeking $7.2 million in federal funds over three years to lay the groundwork for the roughly $30 million project. The federal money would pay for feasibility studies, project design, site acquisition costs and infrastructure work.
Ross said they recently received word that the project is on a funding list Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is supporting as part of the 2011 federal budget.
"We had already been told that was the case for Sen. (Charles) Schumer, and both Reps. (Scott) Murphy and (Bill) Owens have indicated their strong support," Ross said. "I think we're in about as good a position as we could be in terms of federal dollars."
In addition to naming Waters as the executive director of Patriot Hills at Saranac Lake, Ross also announced Tuesday that the organization has received a pair of $25,000 contributions from two private foundations.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or email@example.com.