Woman Shares Story On ‘Extreme’

WHEELING – After her husband committed suicide in 2009, Melissa Karkowski tried to pretend everything was normal – but it didn’t work.

“I put the kids to bed and I would eat and eat, and cry and cry. I gained lots of weight. Four years later, I thought I was going to die just like he did,” said Karkowski, a Shadyside resident.

Karkowski’s husband, Michael, suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder for seven years before he died. He was a sergeant in the Army and served in Afghanistan. She said her husband tried to get medical help from veterans Affairs, but he was put on a waiting list. She believes if he could have gotten more help that maybe he still would be alive today.

“He went to a counselor. I just think that he was a reservist, and he wasn’t prepared for what he saw and had to do. To just come home and be back in a normal life, with a wife and kids and job – it was too much,” she said.

He committed suicide on July 15, 2009, where he worked at the Commercial Vehicle Systems plant in Shadyside.

When Karkowski realized she was endangering her own life with her obesity, she decided to get help via a TV show.

“I wrote to ‘Extreme Weight Loss,’ and by the grace of God they picked me to do the show,” she said. “I feel like I’ve won the health lottery.”

Karkowski’s weight loss journey is expected to be featured during an episode of the show, slated to air at 8 p.m. Tuesday on the ABC network.

The episode will feature film of the inaugural Miles for Mike Run/Walk held last October. Karkowski said the show’s producers helped her put on the race in her husband’s honor. During that event, $2,000 was raised to help veterans with PTSD.

At that time, Karkowski’s weight loss journey was very new.

“I ran all 10 miles – unbroken. I was only three months into my weight loss. The only thing that got me through it is that Mike went to Afghanistan for me and my kids and he was running through the desert with a full pack on and it was 104 degrees. He did it for us and I thought I will do it for him,” she said.

Since June is PTSD awareness month, Karkowski said held the second race June 21 to help raise awareness locally of the condition.

“We were worried that because it was not part of the production, no one would show up. There were three times the (number of ) people there and we raised $4,000,” she said.

The money is going to Wounded Warriors and K9s for Warriors. In reference to the K9s for Warriors, Karkowski said the dogs are used by veterans to help them navigate the outside world.

“When people have PTSD, they become isolated and are afraid to go outside,” she said.

For example, in a grocery store they are often afraid to turn corners. The dog goes ahead and clears the way, she said. And if there is something they want to get off a shelf, the dog will sit with their feet facing out because the PTSD sufferer does not want their back to people.

“About PTSD, no one knows what to say or how to say it. It’s a really tough subject to broach. … The disease is so hard to treat. There are so many different aspects to it. It’s just gut-wrenching. They are our saving our lives and coming home (and dying). It’s just wrong,” Karkowski said.

Karkowski said she did not want her husband’s death to be in vain, especially for her sons, Cody, 14, and Eli, 16.

“He was buried as a hero. He had a military war wound and he was buried with full military honors. They can hold their heads high because their dad came home with a war wound,” she said.