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Ohio physician takes ACEs to top of Mount Fuji, Mount St. Helens; sets sights on Kilimanjaro


Dr. Ronald Dwinnells, struggling to hold a banner celebrating Climbing for Hope for ACEs, atop 8,366-foot Mount St. Helens in 50 mph winds.

Over this last weekend, 104 people in Youngstown, Ohio, climbed Mount St. Helens...virtually. At the start of the climb, on Friday, the weather was a balmy 70 degrees. By Sunday, it was a brisk 44. The elevation, however, remained at a steady 850 feet. 


They were inspired to take 5,000 steps a day for three days to equal the distance β€” if not the huffing and puffing of a real ascent β€” covered by Dr. Ronald Dwinnells, chief executive officer of ONE Health Ohio to the top of Mount St. Helens. ONE Health is a federally qualified health center that serves 25,000 people in four communities in Northeast Ohio. 

Dwinnells, a pediatrician by training, has been climbing mountains for several years. After his mother's death in 2016, he founded the Butterflies and Hope Memorial Foundation to "transform the lives of children afflicted with depression, addiction and other behavioral health problems."


Last year, he also learned about the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study and related ACEs science. So, he decided to dedicate his climbs to children suffering from ACEs, and use his expeditions as opportunities to raise funds to support ACEs activities in his local community. 

In June, he climbed Mount Fuji in Japan. Then, on October 13, he climbed Mount St. Helens. The summit elevation is at 8,366 feet, but with all the switch-backs, Dwinnells figured he took 15,000 steps. He commissioned a cool interactive web site where people could sign up for $5, and raise money as they climbed.


With "not a whole lot of marketing", they raised $3,500 from 104 people.   

The Mount St. Helens climb was kept low-key to work out all the bugs in putting on a virtual climb. Next year, Dwinnells has set his sights on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and wants to entice hundreds of people to join virtually.

His climbing partner is his daughter, Abbey, a pre-med student at Kent State University, who has climbed 14 mountains with her dad. 


Long before Dwinnells learned about ACEs science, his father became overwhelmed with diabetes, sunk into a deep depression and took his own life in 1984, when Dwinnells was a medical school resident. He often wondered if his father would have lived longer if his physician, in addition to asking him about his diabetes, had asked him if he was depressed. Shortly after Dwinnells turned 57, the same age his father was when he died, the tragedy prompted Dwinnells to develop a survey to find out how many of his center's patients had behavioral health problems. 

"It turned out that 66.2% also had behavioral health issues," he said. "Two-thirds of adults coming in for medical problems also had alcohol and drug addiction, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts." 

His six-question survey became part of the intake process, and all of the center's locations have behavioral health embedded in clinical health.

I'll get into more details about how the clinic is integrating ACEs science in another article, after I interview Chris Brugler, a nurse and long-time member of ACEs Connection, who now has the enviable title of ACE Coordinator at ONE Health.


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Thanks Carey for the very positive comments on our efforts.  As a trained pediatrician, I felt it is extremely important that I have the ability to identify kids at risk (for ACEs) as early as possible so proper and adequate interventions can be done (as early as possible).  I believe, we, as physicians, often fall short in recognizing mental and behavioral health issues with our patients--what better opportunity than to explore this when they come to see us for physical ailments.  

I conducted a clinical research a couple of years ago on behavioral health screening in adults 18 and older and found that 2/3 of patients scheduled for medical problems also had behavioral health issues.  I have this article posted on the Butterflies and Hope Foundation website, if anyone is interested.  Based on these findings we should be screening kids for ACEs every chance we can.

By the way, we have a yellow lab named Charlie!

What an inspiring story! How lucky is Abbey to have "climbed every mountain" with her father? I love this story and how far Dr. Dwinnell's family has come in one generation. My father was an alcoholic and a diabetic and died similarly to Dr. Dwinnell's. I am so impressed by Dr. Dwinnell's story and ideas to advance ACEs. There a so many possibilities! Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for this terrific bed-time story.

In fact -- this would would make an inspiring children's book story! The Dwinell's just need a Golden Retriever named Resilience...



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