PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A local father is turning his tragedy into something incredible.
Steven D’Achille is on a mission to help new moms battling postpartum depression.
It was love at first sight from Steven and Alexis D’Achille. The two met and married in fairytale fashion and a few years later, they were thrilled to find out their family was growing.
Alexis had a seamless pregnancy and in August of 2013, Adriana was born. Almost immediately, Steven started to notice some changes in his wife.
“In the very beginning, it was just the smallest, easiest tasks seemed impossible for her to do and she would get so overwhelmed with it and then she started feeling like a bad mom,” said D’Achille.
Those feelings snowballed and Alexis became extremely anxious and had trouble bonding with the baby. She was battling severe postpartum depression.
“I just believed that we could get through it and things would get back to normal,” said D’Achille.
Things didn’t get back to normal and on Oct. 10, just six weeks after giving birth, Alexis took her own life.
She was just 30 years old.
“We had just celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary five days before,” said D’Achille.
It was in those darkest moments that Steven knew he had to do something. He created the Alexis Joy D’Achille Foundation to raise awareness about postpartum depression. He also started raising money to develop a state-of-the-art center dedicated to helping women.
Now, the Alexis Joy Center for Behavioral Health is set to open in September at West Penn Hospital.
“It will be nice to have all of our outpatient offices in one location. We will have two very large group spaces for both the intensive outpatient program and our upcoming partial hospitalization program, which will be a little more intensive, five days a week,” said Dr. Sarah Homitsky.
Dr. Homitsky, with Allegheny Health Network, will head the center. She says a wide range of life-saving therapies and other services will be offered. Something particularly unique about the center is that mothers will be able to bring their babies while receiving those treatments.
“Depressed mothers are unintentionally disengaged, they don’t communicate as much with their baby. They aren’t as responsive to their baby’s cues, so the idea is that a mother with very severe mental illness has an opportunity to get the care that she needs without having to be separated,” said Dr. Homitsky.
This will be the only center of its kind in our region. In fact, there are only a handful of similar facilities nationwide, which is certainly not enough considering 15-20 percent of American women experience depression during pregnancy or postpartum.
Even more disturbing, Homitsky says about half of all depression cases go unidentified by doctors. She says many women do not talk about their symptoms because there is still a stigma surrounding postpartum depression.
She says loved ones can watch for signs of the condition.
“Women who are sad and tearful for a period of over two weeks, perhaps the things they really enjoy doing aren’t fun for them anymore, they are struggling to get out of bed,” said Dr. Homitsky.
Dr. Homitsky says those symptoms typically show up in the first month or two postpartum, like in Alexis’ case.
Steven, who has worked tirelessly to turn his tragedy into good, says as long as the center is open, Alexis gets to live on and in a way, protect new moms.
“Because of her, I know a lot of women will get through it,” said D’Achille.
As for now 3-year-old Adriana, Steven says explaining what happened to her mom is his biggest fear. He wants his little girl to know her mom’s life will never be defined by how it ended.
“We just tell her all the time that her mom is the brightest star in the sky and she looks up and says, ‘Hey, that’s my mommy up there, she’s watching,’” said D’Achille.