Dads often pride themselves on being problem-solvers. When something’s wrong, dad-senses start tingling and don’t stop until the problem is fixed – or at least until all of the relatively-safe options have been exhausted. But there comes a time in many kids’ lives where their parents are the ones who need help. And incredibly, the kids whose diapers we changed, the ones who would inexplicably forget where their mouths were when it was time to eat (but could always find it when they got their hands on something inedible), they become the ones who save the day.
Patrick Skluzacek was a goofy, excitable, outgoing dad. But after serving as a convoy commander for the U.S. Army in Iraq, something inside of him fundamentally changed. In 2007, when Patrick returned, he was haunted by his experiences overseas. Most disturbingly, Patrick had terrible nightmares – nightmares that left him flailing and sweating as he re-lived the horrors he’d experienced. He had left Iraq, but Iraq had not left him.
The tortured dad began to use alcohol and pills in an attempt to escape from the war that was ravaging his brain, even after his body was no longer physically fighting. Patrick lost his wife, his home, and the life he worked so hard for.
According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Patrick is just one of the 11-30% of veterans who return home suffering from PTSD. Though there are trauma-based approaches to controlling the symptoms, PTSD presents differently in individuals making treatment exceedingly difficult.
In 2015, Patrick’s son Tyler was a senior at his college in Minnesota when he heard about a Washington D.C. hackathon. Each hackathon pulled programmers together to work on finding solutions to specific problems, and coincidentally, this hackathon was geared towards developing apps for people with PTSD. With his dad at the forefront of his mind, Tyler saved up for a ticket and made his way to D.C.
Targeting his dad’s problem, Tyler gathered a team of programmers to create an app to stop night terrors. The smartwatch would track the user’s pulse and movement, and upon receiving data associated with night terrors, the watch would begin to vibrate. According to Tyler, the watch would provide a similar sort of stimulation that a service dog would provide – disrupting the REM cycle and pulling the PTSD sufferer out of their night terror.
The watch would need to provide “just enough stimulus to pull them out of the deep REM cycle and allow the sleep to continue unaffected,” Tyler told NPR.
Once the first prototype was done, Patrick was on board to act as a guinea pig for his son’s invention. Through an enormous amount of tweaking, adjusting both the intensity of the vibrations and the data that caused the watch to respond, Tyler’s app eventually fulfilled its incredible purpose.
“It was night and day when I put that watch on and it started working,” Patrick recalled. The vibrations, he explained, were “little miracles.”
Tyler’s app was purchased by an investor who used it to start NightWare, a company that aims to make the service more widely-available to sufferers of PTSD.
As for Patrick, his life is finally back on track thanks to his son, who is now a graduate student in computer science. He has infrequent nightmares, but his all-consuming night terrors are a thing of the past. The FDA gave its approval for the life-changing app, meaning that before long, many others just like Patrick will finally have their lives back.