Akathisia Stories, a co-production of MISSD and Studio C, is a podcast series that features interviews and news concerning the adverse drug reaction akathisia and medication-induced suicide. MISSD, the Medication-Induced Suicide Prevention and Education Foundation in Memory of Stewart Dolin, is a unique nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring the memory of Stewart and other victims of akathisia by raising awareness and educating the public about the dangers of akathisia. MISSD aims to ensure that people suffering from akathisia's symptoms are accurately diagnosed so that needless deaths are prevented. The foundation advocates truth in disclosure, honesty in reporting, and legitimate drug trials.
In this fourth episode of Akathisia Stories, we hear from Kim Witczak, whose husband, Woody, was having trouble sleeping in the summer of 2003. He paid a visit to his regular doctor and left with a three-week sample pack of Zoloft. Kim was out of the country for the first three weeks Woody was on the drug; when she returned home, she was alarmed to see what was happening to her husband of almost 10 years. Kim Witczak: “I will never forget: He came in with his blue dress shirt, which he had an undershirt under, and it was just drenched with sweat; dropped his briefcase at the backdoor; went into a fetal position on our kitchen floor with his hands wrapped around his head like a vice, going: ‘Help me, Kim; help me. I don’t know what’s happening to me. It’s like my head’s outside my body looking in. Help me, Kim. Help me.’ And I remember just looking at him – and I had no idea, but we calmed him down. You know, I’m like, ‘Let’s try breathing; let’s try praying; let’s try yoga. If this job is so stressful, quit.’ You know, I had no idea.”
Kim shares Woody's story — and her own. Her advocacy work has taken her to the nation's capital not only to testify before House and Senate panels but to serve on the FDA Psychopharmacologic Drug Advisory Committee. Kim Witczak: “Being appointed on this committee I think is a success in that I’m not going to be just the rubber stamp, which I see a lot of. So for me, I think it’s a success that I have a seat at the table. But I’m often the only one that votes no.”
Kim Witczak is a leading international drug safety advocate and speaker with over 25 years professional experience in advertising and marketing communications. Kim co-founded Woody Matters, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for a stronger FDA and drug safety system. She also co-created and organized the international, multi-disciplinary conference Selling Sickness in Washington, D.C. In 2016 Kim was appointed Consumer Representative on the FDA Psychopharmacologic Drugs Advisory Committee and is on the Board of Directors of the National Physicians Alliance and MISSD. She is also an active member of the D.C.-based Patient, Consumer, and Public Health Coalition, making sure the voice of non-conflicted patients and consumers is represented in FDA-related legislative issues. And she is a founding alliance member of the Know More About Drugs campaign started by Nancy Cartwright (best known for her work as the voice of Bart Simpson). She recently talked to Andy Miles via Skype from her home in Minneapolis.
In this episode, we bring you more from the Kim Witczak interview featured in Episode 4. Here Kim talks about the legal battle she waged in the courts; her work producing the Selling Sickness conference; more about her work with the FDA panel and its involvement with the drug Chantix; and becoming involved with MISSD and the first time she met MISSD founder Wendy Dolin. (These segments are also available as Podcast Extras.)
S U B S C R I B E
In this third episode of Akathisia Stories, we hear from Kristina Kaiser Gehrki, whose daughter Natalie's prescription drug-induced tragedies began at the age of two and a half, when she was prescribed a powerful cancer drug to combat juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Around the time of her 10th birthday, Natalie was put on Prozac for mild social anxiety. A year and a half later the prescribing doctor advised Natalie to take a medication holiday. Kristina Gehrki: “When the doctor told her to immediately and cold turkey stop Prozac, within two weeks I had to rush Natalie to the hospital. And what I did was this: I came into Natalie’s room and she said, ‘Mom’ – she was very flat – she said, ‘Mom, I can’t stop thinking about killing myself, but I know I can’t so I won’t.’ And I was just shocked. And I rushed her to the hospital because I didn’t know what was happening and I was so concerned. And what we learned is you’re not supposed to stop cold turkey. You’re supposed to taper. And if you do stop cold turkey, it can cause withdrawal akathisia."
Kristina Kaiser Gehrki has more than 20 years of professional experience in communications and education. She's worked for several nonprofits, corporate headquarters and public school districts. Kristina has authored an accredited akathisia course, developed marketing curriculum for the Virginia commonwealth, provided FDA testimony and presented at several national conferences focused on communicating crisis and risk. Kristina was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, and lived with her family in the Washington, D.C. suburbs for more than 20 years. We spoke recently by Skype.
(In the Podcast Extra Kristina talks about her involvement with MISSD.)
On this second episode of Akathisia Stories, we hear from Gail Regenbogen. In late 2010 Gail's husband, Howard, went on the antidepressant Cymbalta; in a short period of time he changed from the "very outgoing, happy" man Gail had known him to be through 30 years of marriage, to someone who was "real quiet and withdrawn." "This was three weeks into the course of the Cymbalta,” she recounts. “And my daughter called me up and she said, ‘We were all driving home and we were talking about dad tonight and I think something’s not right.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve noticed a change in his personality, as well.’ And my kids were concerned, and I sort of just kind of let it be because I really wasn’t educated on any of the side effects of any of these drugs. You know, all I knew is that these drugs work and they help people."
Gail Regenbogen was born 63 years ago in Detroit, Michigan and raised 14 miles north of Chicago in the village of Wilmette. She attended New Trier High School and went on to study elementary education and history at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, and was an elementary school teacher in the Chicago public school system. She married Howard Regenbogen in 1980; they raised three daughters together.
(In the Podcast Extra, Gail talks about coming to be involved with MISSD and giving her time to Lurie Children's Hospital.)
We launch the Akathisia Stories podcast with MISSD founder Wendy Dolin. Over the course of two interviews recorded in the first half of 2019, she talks to host Andy Miles about the 2010 suicide of her husband, Stewart Dolin, the work of the foundation she started in his name, medication-induced suicide and cases of chronic akathisia, her work with and on behalf of veterans, the legal battle she has waged in the courts and the status of her petition to the United States Supreme Court, and more.
Wendy Dolin, MSW, LSW, LCSW, is a certified family therapist with a private practice in the Chicago area and an internationally recognized health and safety advocate. She is also the founder of the Medication-Induced Suicide Prevention and Education Foundation in Memory of Stewart Dolin (MISSD). She started MISSD following the 2010 death of her husband, Stewart, who died after suffering from an adverse drug effect called akathisia. In 2018, the International Society of Ethical Psychiatry and Psychology recognized Wendy with its Humanitarian of the Year award. She holds a Bachelor's in Early Childhood Education from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and a Master's in Social Work from Loyola University Chicago.
About the series host
Andy Miles has written for various publications on the arts, history & culture, made audio documentaries, worked in radio and public television, owned and operated a company specializing in congressional hearing transcripts, and for nine years owned and managed the gallery, shop, performance and teaching space Transistor Chicago. Currently he operates the sole proprietorship AM/FM, under which Transistor Radio, Transistor Sound, and Studio C reside. Born near Chicago and currently residing in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, he has also called Madison, Washington, D.C., and Berlin home. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, plays drums and bass, loves going to the movies (especially to see Hollywood & foreign classics), and is a tennis, squash, soccer, basketball, biking, ping-pong, and golf enthusiast.