The legacy of Between the Bridges Healing Center began with a vision: To treat the body and spirit along with the mind. That philosophy is rooted in the ideals of osteopathic medicine.
But the inspiration behind the name, Between the Bridges Healing Center, began with a story of a woman who suffered for years with schizophrenia and a little girl who grew up to become an advocate for mental health victims and their families.
Growing up in the late 1960s-early 70s, was bizarre and turbulent for Tina Kotulski, the daughter of a schizophrenic mother. Born in 1941, Mildred Ann Stafford Smiley came from a long line of privileged, cultured, and educated woman. Known as Millie, she began showing signs of severe depression, extreme lethargy and bizarre behavior at 16.
Her mother, Kathryn Stafford, took her to a doctor who diagnosed Millie with hypothyroidism and put her on Synthroid, a hormone replacement medication then new to the market. As Millie gained weight due to her symptoms, she was then prescribed Dexadrine, a diet pill that moved her into addiction. The side effects were countered by a prescription of Valium.
Millie’s depression didn’t improve. Instead, she embarked on a 25-year harrowing journey into Illinois’ mental health system. Her path included cold and sterile psychiatric hospitals and state homes for the mentally ill, where physicians and caregivers provided care rather than a cure. Instead of a healthy lifestyle and diet, Millie was simply prescribed pills. Many of the medications Millie was alternately forced to take had unwelcome side effects that were more evident than any benefits.
The result? Millie’s course of traditional disease treatment created havoc both psychologically and physiologically.
Her situation dramatically affected Tina’s life. Tina was forced to survive, often fending for herself, and attending school while taking care of her mother, who was sometimes violent and physically abusive. Tina grew up with her mother’s vicious cycle of pill popping, then withdrawal and lethargy, psychosis and eventually more drugs. Tina’s story is beautifully told with the intent of helping anyone who grew up in the shadow of mental illness in her book, “Saving Mille: A Daughter’s Story of Surviving her Mother’s Schizophrenia.”
Needing a bridge for good health solutions…
Perhaps the most disturbing fact of Millie’s medical journey was while she was treated by a series of different psychiatrists, each doctor failed to put the pieces together of Millie’s life, her physical health and her story. One doctor, who cared for Millie for 15 years, treated her episodes as isolated incidents. Eventually, she was moved to a state-funded mental hospital after a failed suicide attempt.
One day, when Tina was a little girl, Millie surprised her with an elaborate miniature Bachmann train set. It was quite fancy, and Millie often bought things she didn’t need nor could afford. After a long while staring at the train set, Millie declared that she desperately had to go to a store to find a much-needed bridge that would connect the scattered tracks cluttering the living room floor.
She never brought home a bridge. Millie just forgot about it in her manic state of mind. But that search for a bridge metaphorically parallels her journey for a health solution: Millie was always on a quest for good health, along with a promise of the right course of action. She just couldn’t reach her goal with what “traditional disease treatment medicine” offered. What Millie really needed was a bridge connecting her medical episodes into a story, and a comprehensive osteopathic treatment course that would fortify her body and soul together to restore a quality of life she never experienced.
One morning, long after Tina grew up to become the wife of Dr. Jeffrey Kotulski, an osteopathic physician practicing in Mankato, and living in Madelia, Minnesota; she received a troubling call from the Illinois group home where Millie was staying. Millie was on 12 different medications. Her body’s ability to metabolize these medications severely compromised her kidney function, leading to a low blood sodium level that facilitated an acute short-term, memory loss. For six hours, a very-dehydrated Millie was treated in a Chicago suburban emergency room for stabilization. The emergency room physician, who treated and diagnosed Millie, referred her to the hospital’s psychiatric ward. There, the psychiatrist on duty wanted to increase Millie’s medications and even add Haldol, a strong anti-psychotic drug with a host of adverse side effects.
Tina recalled, “They wanted to give my mother a chemical lobotomy.”
Tina and her husband immediately took action, moving Millie into their Madelia home, surrounded by their loving children, Charles, Eddie, Breigha and Samuel. A comprehensive medical program, utilizing Orthomolecular Medicine at Between the Bridges Healing Center, replaced the medications she had been prescribed in Illinois. Orthomolecular Medicine is often not an option for people suffering with mental illnesses in the United States.
Osteopathic Medicine: Respecting the body, mind and soul of a patient
Dr. Jeff’s Orthomolecular Medicine approach aimed to maintain Millie’s optimal state of health through nutritional supplementation. Nutrients were something Millie had severely lacked. The idea of Orthomolecular Medicine is to correct imbalances or deficiencies with vitamins, minerals and amino acids. For any person who suffers mental illness, physical health is often so overlooked while physicians utilize a traditional disease management approach. The same holds true for just about any illness, disease or condition.
Orthomolecular Medicine for Schizophrenia
Orthomolecular Medicine and the treatment of mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, aims to restore the optimum environment of the body by correcting imbalances or deficiencies based on individual biochemistry using substances natural to the body, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, trace elements and essential fatty acids.
In building Millie’s bridge to health, consistency in treatment, and a lifestyle surrounded by loving grandchildren, Tina’s mother took a somewhat dramatic path to better health. As Millie’s primary care physician, Dr. Jeff also employed Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment, a treatment used at the successful Still Hildreth Sanatorium (SHS) founded in 1914 in Macon, Missouri, by Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO, the founder of Osteopathy.
The renowned center closed in 1968. But its impact into mental health treatment was astounding, proving that osteopathic medicine–which respects the body, mind and the patient as an individual–is aligned with far better outcomes when compared to the traditional disease management approach used in mental health facilities. Treatment protocols in these mental health facilities simply provided caretaking for these patients, much of which was substandard.
According to a study conducted by Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences in 2015, patients recovered from mental illnesses at a much higher rate in the osteopathic mental health facility than at traditional mental health hospitals, or homes–from 1915-1968.
Dr. Still’s patients were treated with optimum courtesy, respect, and rooms were cheerful and homey. Nutrition and diet were an important part of life at SHS, and at one point, two greenhouses, vegetable gardens, an orchard farm, a dairy and bakery surrounded the facility for patients and staff. Salty foods were avoided. Patients were encouraged to exercise, sew, participate in sports, gardening, and family events, perform musical and dance numbers. In short, patients were encouraged to enjoy life to their fullest physical and mental capacity, working hands-on with the staff and physicians for recovery.
Along with the philosophy of a very healthy diet, exercise, Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment was used at SHS to normalize the structural integrity of the body, providing a bridge from which other therapies can be effectively employed. This treatment was essential for providing good outcomes for the patients at Dr. Still’s sanatorium, and it still is essential for good mental health outcomes today.
Millie received Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment so that she could use her body to the fullest. She was prescribed a diet and vitamin regiment that built her immune system, strengthened her physical strength and movement so that she was able to enjoy playing with her grandchildren. This was all something new for Millie. At last, she found a bridge for connecting traditional disease management with osteopathic and holistic therapies, treatments and philosophies.
From the time Millie moved in with the Kotulskis in 2005 and began medical treatment with osteopathic therapies at Between the Bridges Healing Center, she was able to live her last years with happiness and health, surrounded by her grandchildren. It wasn’t only Millie’s schizophrenia that needed management; it was also her lifestyle, her health, diet, and physical well being that needed nurturing. For several years she lived with the Kotulski family. She was eventually moved to a nearby, assisted living facility because of her permanently damaged cognitive abilities. Throughout these years, Dr. Jeff served to consult with the primary care physician at the assisted living facility to optimize her physical health.
This osteopathic support coupled with the strong familial support from the Kotulski Family was instrumental in Millie living her last years at optimum physical health and happiness. A very detailed and comprehensive medical program utilizing Orthomolecular Medicine replaced her medication “cocktail”.
Through Orthomolecular Medicine, Millie’s daughter finally found that bridge to allow her some quality time, where her world didn’t consist of living in a catatonic state. The end of the line for most mental health patients is a state institution, a hospital or a nursing home, being heavily sedated for the remainder of their lives.
Between the Bridges Healing Center is dedicated to the memory of Millie, who inspired Tina and Jeff Kotulski to find a bridge that would connect Millie to a healthier lifestyle and enable her to enjoy 20 years of life with optimum health. Millie went on to live to the best of her cognitive abilities until the end of her life on December 6, 2017, surrounded by an essential bridge to osteopathic and holistic medicine.
About the Author
Tina Kotulski, a writer and mental health care advocate, won first place for “Saving Mille: A Daughter’s Story of Surviving her Mother’s Schizophrenia.” from the Midwest Independent Publishers Association, Honorable Mention from the Eric Hoffer Book Award Group in New Jersey and Trophy Award from the NNAAMI, National Network of Adult and Adolescent Children who have a Mentally Ill Parent, founded in Australia. With her mother, Mildred Smiley, she received a 2006 Award of Excellence in Consumer and Family Support from the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.
Tina is a national renowned speaker and educator at national conferences, seminars, healthcare centers, community centers, and churches. She lives in southern Minnesota, with her husband, Jeffrey Kotulski, an osteopathic physician and their four children.
Tina and her husband own and operate Between the Bridges Healing Centers in Mankato, Minnesota, a family health clinic that aims to bring together the best of holistic, regenerative and integrative medicine.