When local primary care paramedic Kelsey Morash began conventional therapy to help her process her Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), things were not improving as she thought they would. It wasn't until she found Prairie Sky Equine Assisted Therapy, a program that was founded by a paramedic for paramedics and other first responders dealing with trauma, that she truly began to heal.
Morash believes that without the equine therapy, she may not have survived the PTSD.
"I can honestly say it saved my life. I didn't realize how bad I was until I started talking with a group of like-minded first responders and military personnel that had the same diagnosis as I did. It made me feel like I wasn't alone."
Today, Morash is raising funds for the program in the hopes that it will be able to give solace to others, and possibly save the lives of paramedics who are struggling with trauma. Morash underlined that because the program is free for paramedics and because it has run out of government-accessible grants, funding is crucial.
"I know so many people that would benefit from it and want to do it, but we just don't have the funding and that shouldn't be a barrier for us. But it is and funding for the program aside, horses are expensive," she said. "They need blankets, they need food, they need care."
She is hoping to raise $1,500 through a meat fundraiser.
"If [that money] can buy even one horse blanket or provide enough funding to do one more PTSD program and get one more class and save one more person I will consider myself successful."
Morash said that one of the things that she found in equine therapy to be incredibly helpful was that the animals taught her to live in the now.
"The horse doesn't care what's coming up tomorrow. They don't care what's coming up next week. They focus on right now. The big takeaway was why are we focusing on [something]? Focus on right now. What do I feel right now? Well, right now I feel scared or sad or angry. You feel that because the pain demands to be felt. Let it come and let it go."
Morash added that equine therapy also allowed her to be around beings that have no judgment.
"That was a big thing for me, too. We would be doing exercises and I would think of a painful memory and I would be sobbing into the mane of this horse that doesn't know me from Adam. They just sit and they just are."
Like many paramedics who are diagnosed with PTSD, it was the accumulation of traumatic calls that would culminate in Morash beginning to ruminate more and more on individual calls. One particular call that she attended that dealt with the cardiac arrest of an elderly individual, led her to begin what her partner identified as projecting a trauma response. With time, she began having flashbacks of particularly traumatic events not only when she was awake, but when she was sleeping. She was afraid to stay awake and she was afraid to sleep - leaving her in a tortured limbo. Then she began seeing past traumatic calls in her family members.
"I started seeing them in my godchildren;w would go sledding and my goddaughter tripped and fell, as the average two-year-old does," Morash said. "But I didn't hear her. I didn't see her. I saw an eight-year-old child that had broken a femur and was screaming and in pain."
Morash was diagnosed with PTSD in October 2021 and would go through the six-week equine therapy program in December of that year. Though she said that she watched her parents, both of whom were in the healthcare field go through their own mental health struggles due to the trauma they experienced at work, she said that the question of whether she would become a first responder knowing the toll it takes on one's mental health, she said it is not a black-and-white answer.
"I've been off work for about a year and a half now and I deeply miss it and there's a lot of things that I don't miss about it. I think part of me says no, I would not have gone into Paramedicine; I would have gone into nursing and part of me says absolutely; I definitely would still be a paramedic, I would just do things differently."
However, her choice of career path came when she was as young as four years old, and it stemmed from the many conversations she and her parents had at the kitchen table. Though Morash dryly teases that perhaps the conversations were unorthodox considering her father was an organ tissue technician. But it wasn't until she happened upon a horrendous motorcycle collision in Banff that she made a very consequential choice.
"Back in 2012, I was first aid certified, I knew CPR, but I didn't have anything beyond that. My boyfriend at the time and I came across a motorcycle accident. The only thing that I could do for this poor man who had fluid coming out of his ears, held his hand and ask him to stay awake. I hated that feeling. I hated the feeling of being helpless and not being able to do anything more for him than keeping conscious."
Morash has been a primary care paramedic for nine years and said that she can still remember the names of the patients she attended to that were some of her most traumatic calls. She estimates she has cared for hundreds, if not thousands of patients.
Morash said that those who are interested can email her or message her through Facebook directly.
According to Prairie Sky Equine Assisted Therapy's website, Jessica van der Hoek, the founder of the program currently also works as a Paramedic for Alberta Health Services.
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