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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Coming to the aid of first responders

The Tema Conter Memorial Trust

TORONTO, February 6, 2017 - Like so many people with PTSD, Vince Savoia can mark the moment his life changed forever…late afternoon, January 27, 1988.

That is when he encountered the lifeless body of a young woman named Tema Conter.

He was a young paramedic, 26, when he found her naked, bound and gagged with multiple stab wounds in the bedroom of her midtown Toronto apartment. She was almost the same age as he was, and she looked just like someone he knew.

“The similarity was so uncanny,” says Savoia. “My partner asked me, ‘Is that your fiancée?’”

Ever since that day, Savoia has been either living with the symptoms of PTSD, or helping other first responders who are suffering from it.

That eventually led to his formation of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, which is dedicated to research, education and training of first responders to help recognize and manage psychological trauma in their own lives.

Vince SavoiaVince Savoia

“The thought of doing something for Tema stayed with me for years,” says Savoia from his home office in Midhust, Ontario. “I know it makes no sense because she was already dead when we got there, but I felt guilty for not being able to save her life.”

Beginning today in Woodbridge, the Tema Conter Memorial Trust is holding a week-long education conference called “Light the Way” dedicated to various aspects of research and awareness regarding first responders and psychological trauma. CAMH’s Work, Stress and Health  program (WSH) has been a proud supporter and several of their staff members will be presenting at the conference.

CAMH psychologist Dr. Lisa Couperthwaite will be speaking on Tuesday evening at a workshop called 911 Family First, dedicated to supporting mental health and wellness for not just first responders but their circle of family and friends as well.  TEMA Conference poster

On Friday, Dr. Couperthwaite and fellow CAMH psychologists Dr. Vivien Lee and Dr. Hester Dunlap will all be speaking at an all-day symposium called Common Threads about the importance of “wellness checks” and other mental health supports and services for first responders as well as military personnel

For Savoia, Canada has come a long way in recognizing not just PTSD but the entire range of psychological trauma associated with being a first responder.  He is heartened to see their plight become a subject of national debate.  On Thursday, Bill C-211, a private members bill seeking a national strategy to support first responders, will go to second reading.

“We have a lot more people talking about these issues, which is great,” says Savoia. “But we still have a system with a lack of funding that is slow to react, slow to provide care and slow to support people in need.”


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