NEW LEXINGTON — When Dirk Harkins walked into The Perry County Tribune‘s office two weeks ago, he looked like he could be a stunt double for Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl-winning tight end Rob Gronkowski. In reality, Dirk was making the rounds to newspaper offices in southeast Ohio to spread the word about a new treatment program open to U.S. military veterans who are residents of Ohio.
His stop in New Lexington was even more important because only two treatment sites currently exist in this part of the country. One is at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. The other is located on Main Street in New Lexington, Ohio.
The treatment plan is known as data-driven transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). A definitive definition of TMS is presented in a brochure titled Ohio Veterans NOW, Neuromodulation: Operation Wellness. It is being distributed by OSU’s Wexner Center.
What is TMS? To quote the brochure, ”TMS is a safe, non-invasive stimulation procedure using a magnet to generate weak electrical currents. Stimulation rates can be adjusted to your biorhythms, changing the balance between active and inactive brain networks.”
To Harkins, TMS is a lifesaver that returned him from the brink of self-destruction. After 9-11, he answered the call of duty at age 33 when he joined the U.S. Army. Following boot camp at Fort Benning, Ga., Harkins graduated as a member of the 82nd Airborne.
While deployed in Iraq, his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device (IED) while driving in the Iraqi city of Tikrit. The result was a traumatic brain injury for Harkins that was just the start of a downward spiral.
Severe migraine headaches, alcohol and chemical addictions, violent outbursts, and run-ins with the law became the new pattern following his service to our country. A friend’s suicide finally pushed him over the edge.
“I went to the place where my friend took his life with the cops on my tail,” said Harkins describing the fateful night when he cared little about the choice between life and death. As he fought with the policemen trying to subdue him, one of them screamed “I’m going to shoot you if you don’t quit fighting.” Harkins response was, “Go ahead, I don’t care.”
Sitting in a jail cell that night, Harkins decided to reach out to Ohio state Sen. Frank Hoagland, himself a former SEAL.
That reachout helped him make the trip to Texas where TMS treatments were being offered. After four TMS treatments, Harkins’ migraine headaches disappeared. When his doctor gave him a book to read, he tried to beg out of the assignment. However, his doctor persisted.
“I had never been a good student,” Harkins explained. “All I cared about was sports, but I read that book. And then I read four more books!” It was if he had gained passage to a world he never knew existed.
Alyssa Love accompanied Harkinson his second visit to the Tribune office. Love is a registered nurse and medical manager at Perry Behavioral Health Choices (PBHC), located at 203 N. Main Street in New Lexington. She provided the medical details of TMS treatment during the visit.
“TMS is FDA-approved for depression and anxiety,” she explained. “The program is a six-week, five-days-a-week treatment that lasts up to an hour or more each session.”
“For six weeks an hour a day to get your life back is not much of a price,” commented Harkins.
Love went on to explain that TMS also helps veterans struggling with substance abuse, sleep issues, chronic stress, mood problems, and chronic pain. Some or all of these issues are major contributors to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“Currently we have one machine at PBHC, but maybe if you write a good enough story, we can get more,” said Love with a laugh — as Harkins nodded earnestly in the affirmative.
The former paratrooper had just completed what he described as a ”maintenance” round of TMS. Currently he has enrolled in classes that he hopes will lead him to a career as a social worker. Right now he is passionately seeking fellow veterans who are suffering in silence following their service to our nation.
The current TMS program has a capacity of working with seven veterans at a time. Three veterans are in their third week of treatment at PBHC. Love’s phone rang as the interview continued. Hanging up, she told Harkins, ”We just picked up number four.” That leaves three spots in the current TMS treatment cycle.
To become part of the free TMS program, a potential candidate must complete a welcome packet, go over their background, and complete the necessary paperwork.
Harkins provided three phone numbers to call, but then said, “Tell’em to call the third number because the first two numbers just refer them to my number anyway.” That number is 740-491-7125.
“We have guys who were in the Middle East and guys all the way back to Vietnam who have received TMS,” said Harkins,
If you are a veteran suffering from the symptoms described in this article, give Harkins a call. He speaks a common language perhaps only veterans will truly understand. No judgment awaits, only understanding and treatment. That treatment is available in Perry County, waiting with open arms to provide you the life you deserve.
The wings of a brother-in-arms, Dirk Harkins, Retired SSG 82 Airborne, have plenty of wingspan to welcome you home.