From parents' grief comes determination to help
For Wayne and Helga Campbell, the death of their daughter Katey in 2013 has sparked a resolve to aid others experiencing mental health issues
There is perhaps no greater pain a parent can feel, than the hurt that results from the loss of a child.
And when you factor in that it is a death that could have been prevented had the right kind of help been available, the pain can become even greater.
But ever since one summer night two and a half years ago, when Katey Campbell slipped into the upper Niagara River, the lives of her family would be forever changed.
“At 2:30 a.m. the phone rang. The police were at our door,” Helga Campbell recalls of the events of that tragic night on July 18, 2013. “They said, ‘We believe your daughter has gone over the falls.’ ”
Katey was just 33 years old.
It’s a scene that has played over and over again in her head, the retired Niagara District School Board trustee said.
“Oh my God, it was just awful.”
Helga and her husband — Niagara Falls city councillor Wayne Campbell — have since started a foundation in Katey’s name through the Niagara Community Foundation in support of people dealing with mental health issues. Money doled out each year is earmarked to help patients with everything from transportation to medications. The endowment makes annual donations to Pathstone Mental Health and YWCA of Niagara, the latter of which provided support to Katey, who had lived a troubled life marked by drug and alcohol addictions as well as eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa.
“It all started when Katey was three or four years old,” Wayne says. “She was sexually abused by a foster child who was living with my parents.”
But it took nearly 20 years for the truth to come out. Wayne’s father had died and Katey went to stay with his mother.
“She was sleeping in the same bed where it had happened,” Wayne said. “That’s when the pieces came back.”
He says the therapist explained to them that at the time of the abuse, Katey did not have the cognitive ability to understand it.
From the time of the assault to the day of her death, Katey’s life was a struggle, in which she battled with addiction and was involved in unhealthy relationships with men who turned out to be emotionally abusive and controlling.
One was a man she met while in recovery during her five years of sobriety.
“They bought a house together in Fort Erie,” Wayne says. “But after a while … .”
That is not to say that there were not good times.
Katey worked her way through school at the University of Western Ontario and earned a fine arts degree. She then went on to get her teacher’s degree in Buffalo.
“She was very creative. She was a foodie,” Helga says. “When she cooked it had to be a gourmet meal.”
She was also very stylish, Helga says, and could often be found going through Helga’s mother’s closet and finding something to wear.
“It was usually '50s or '60s but she looked good,” Helga says, smiling at the memory.
As Helga shows off some of the artwork Katey created, she beams with pride, especially when she talks about one of her favourites, a life-size self-portrait in pencil. In it, Katey is wearing a sundress and Doc Martens, holding a cigarette.
Others are portraits of Wayne’s parents and borderline abstract self-portrait.
“Some of her stuff was really dark,” Helga says. “It was one of those things but she had so much talent, was bright and had so much potential."
She stretched the limits of creativity in her taste in music as well, Wayne says.
“She took me to my first-ever rave in the early 2000s. We saw Moby. It was phenomenal.”
As a teacher, she was well liked by students and staff alike at the now closed E.J. Rutland Elementary School in Chippawa, where she spent a year as a long-term occasional teacher.
“Kids would say she was the best teacher they’ve ever had,” Helga says. “And the teachers said she was the bright light of the school.”
At the time of her death, she was seeing a man she met online, who, as it turned out, was married. The night of her death she had texted the man saying she was going to kill herself and got no response.
“He didn’t even contact the police,” Wayne said.
Wayne was able to track the man down and discovered he had been playing the same game with another woman.
Earlier that day, Katey had spent the day swimming with her family at the Campbell’s Armoury Street home.
“It was the last time we saw her,” Helga says.
They learned from Paul Forcier of the Niagara Parks Police what had transpired that fateful night.
“He was on duty that night. He saw the whole thing,” Helga says. “He said Katey was trying to make her way to the island at the brink of the falls. We both know she didn’t want to die.”
Despite being hospitalized several times, Katey was unable to get the help she really needed, Wayne says.
“When she’d come down, she’d be told, ‘What are you doing here? This bed could be used for someone else who needs it.’ She never got the help she needed.”
Since that night, grief has been a constant companion for the Campbell family, including Katey’s older sister, Leigh. But the foundation is a way for the Campbell’s to bring some good from the tragedy.
Since its inception, the fund has raised $43,000 and is looking to add to that through a crowd funding initiative through GoFundMe. Wayne says they are hoping to raise an additional $20,000 which would allow for annual donations to be increased from the current $1,000 to $2,500 over the 20-year span for the endowment.
There will also be a fundraising event called Journey Through the Decades on April 7 at Club Italia being organized by Wayne’s council colleague Carolynn Ioannoni. It will be the second fundraiser Ioannoni has organized, the last one taking place in April 2014.
Meanwhile, Helga, a retired principal and now a school board trustee, managed to get the board to fund mental health training for teachers.
“It will help teachers be able to see the signs,” she says.
To donate to the GoFundMe campaign, visit http://ow.ly/X3s7b