By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
From the moment he pulled the trigger, Geovani Galvez regretted it.
He can’t tell you when he began thinking that suicide was the way out, but he can tell you about the moment he tried to take his life.
Almost matter-of-factly, he lays it out.
It was a Monday, about 6 a.m.
Galvez had just gotten off work at IU Health Methodist Hospital, where he worked the night shift, July 19, 2021. He’s not really sure what was going through his head, other than that he felt alone, hopeless and without purpose.
He drove home, found a gun that belonged to another family member, returned to his car and pointed it at his chest.
“I shot myself,” he said quietly. “I didn’t want to be here anymore. There were so many things working against me. I thought that was the end. I felt the pain and then I was like, ‘I can’t die.’”
Lucky for him and his family, he didn’t.
FROM NEAR DEATH TO NEW LIFE
Today, Galvez is still getting his head around that reality, made all the more incredible by the fact that after trying to take a life – his own – he is saving a life – his son’s.
In the months since his suicide attempt, the 29-year-old father has recovered physically and emotionally to the point where he is able to be a bone marrow donor for his 6-year-old son, Levi, who has acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Father and son will undergo the procedure this week at Riley Hospital for Children, with Dr. Sandeep Batra as lead physician.
Galvez is a haploid, or half-match, donor for Levi, who has been battling leukemia since 2018.
“In August 2020, Levi finished treatment. We didn’t ring the bell because of COVID, but we were happy,” Galvez said. “Last March, he relapsed again. They found cancer in his central nervous system, but they were able to get him in remission again.”
After yet another relapse, it was decided that a bone marrow transplant would be his best chance for beating the blood cancer.
Galvez can’t help but think he survived so he could save his son. It’s a powerful motivator to look at life differently.
He remembers being in the emergency department at Methodist, where the trauma team, led by Dr. Jennifer Hartwell, rallied to save him.
“I received amazing care at Methodist. Dr. Hartwell is an amazing physician, and her team was really awesome.”
The bullet damaged his spleen and diaphragm and fractured several ribs. It is still lodged behind his rib cage.
Life started over for him that day.
“It was like the day I was born again. I shouldn’t be here right now, but I am. Everybody worked so hard and took the best care of me and kept me alive.”
PAIN BEHIND THE SMILE
Galvez recognized some of the people around him in the ED because he works there as a patient financial counselor.
One of those people was chaplain Thomas McDorr, who would become a key figure in Galvez’ recovery.
“I remember waking up in the ICU and Thomas was there and my mom was there,” Galvez said. “He was by my side from that day, and I think it was meant to be.”
As a healthcare worker, Galvez said he is used to taking care of others, but the pressures of life, combined with COVID, got the better of him that day.
“People see you smile, and they think everything’s perfect in your life, but nobody knows what’s going on deep inside you.”
It’s McDorr’s mission to see beyond the smiles, to acknowledge the pain people are suffering – not just physically, but emotionally. As trauma chaplain, he does the same for every patient, but he admits it was a little shocking to see not only someone he knew, but someone he works with in the ED.
“I remember there being a lot of concern from a lot of people down in the emergency room when he came in as a trauma patient,” McDorr said of Galvez.
“Every trauma patient has a unique experience and story. I come alongside people in those difficult times to hear their story, to validate their experience and their feelings,” he said. “To let them know that they’re being heard and they have someone they can trust and someone who is going to support them during their time in the hospital.”
McDorr emphasizes that an injury, or the story behind it, does not define a patient. He does his best to set aside any bias or judgment before he enters a trauma bay or patient room.
“It’s easy to jump to conclusions, but you have to be able to go in and have a conversation and see that this person is hurting, not just from their injury, but from their emotional pain,” he said.
“That’s why what we as chaplains do is so important. A lot of what we do in the hospital is focused on the physical injury, but all of those injuries come with their own emotional and sometimes spiritual trauma.”
“THERE WAS A REASON I STAYED ALIVE”
McDorr followed Galvez throughout his 11-day stay at Methodist, learning about his young son and the struggle the family faced with cancer.
The chaplain has three sons, one of whom is the same age as Levi, so the two men forged a natural connection that continues today, as Galvez and Levi’s mom, Ebby, wait by their son’s side for the transplant that will give him another chance at life.
“That day I didn’t want to live because I didn’t know what the purpose of my life was. But there was a reason I stayed alive.”
That reason sits beside him, munching on potato chips and watching videos on his dad’s phone.
“He doesn’t really know what’s going on,” Galvez says of his son, who had just finished a radiation treatment. “I tell him we’re going to the hospital, and he says, ‘OK, which one,’ and he tells me where to park and what elevators to go on. It’s become a normal routine to him, which is sad. No kid should have to get used to that.”
Levi, who loves LEGOs, his little sister and anything to do with food, will receive his father’s donated bone marrow March 2 and is expected to remain hospitalized at Riley for six to eight weeks.
“I just want to get it done with,” Galvez said. “I’m not worried about myself; I’m worried about him. He’s the most important thing. Whatever I have to do is what I have to do.”
As he focuses on helping his son, Galvez also finds purpose in sharing his story to let others know that hope is out there, even in their darkest hour.
RECLAIMING HIS LIFE
“Asking for help is one of the hardest things to do. I know,” he said. “But I want people to know they aren’t going to be judged. You don’t have to suffer alone. There are people who really care out there, so giving up shouldn’t be an option.”
For McDorr, seeing a man’s brokenness reshaped into a lifegiving force is a remarkable testament to the power of love.
“Traumatic injury doesn’t always serve a purpose, but if someone is able to make meaning of their situation, I think it helps with their recovery,” the chaplain said.
Looking back, Galvez knows why he survived. He lived so he could give life to his son.
That alone is so powerful, McDorr said. But the suicide survivor will build on that purpose in the months to come by volunteering with Methodist Hospital’s Trauma Survivors Network, which McDorr leads.
“I’m glad he was able to have that moment of realizing the greater purpose and meaning his life has.”
Galvez continues to receive counseling through Aspire Indiana.
If you are thinking about hurting yourself or you know someone who needs help, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com