ShareThis Page

After wife's suicide, McCandless dad champions center to treat depression in new moms at West Penn Hospital

Wes Venteicher
| Tuesday, May 23, 2017, 6:06 p.m.
Steven D'Achille, 34, and his daughter, Adriana, 3, stop for pink macaroons in Wexford before attending a daddy-daughter dance last week. D'Achille's foundation, the Alexis Joy D'Achille Foundation, is partnering with Allegheny Health Network to open a new behavioral health center for pregnant women and new mothers at West Penn Hospital this fall.
Submitted
Steven D'Achille, 34, and his daughter, Adriana, 3, stop for pink macaroons in Wexford before attending a daddy-daughter dance last week. D'Achille's foundation, the Alexis Joy D'Achille Foundation, is partnering with Allegheny Health Network to open a new behavioral health center for pregnant women and new mothers at West Penn Hospital this fall.

Steven D'Achille hopes that a treatment center for pregnant women and new mothers scheduled to open this fall in Pittsburgh will prevent deaths such as his wife's.

The idea for the center, which Allegheny Health Network is adding to West Penn Hospital, came to D'Achille while he was waiting outside the intensive care unit where Alexis Joy D'Achille, his wife, was treated before her death in October 2013. She took her own life amid postpartum depression that her widower said local doctors couldn't treat.

“We will have a facility that I wish I had and my wife had when we needed it,” said D'Achille, 34, of McCandless.

The Alexis Joy D'Achille Center for Women's Behavioral Health will offer intensive group and individual therapy for up to 12 mother-baby pairs at a time, said Rebecca Weinberg, a clinical psychologist for AHN's women's behavioral health program.

The $1.2 million center is one of just a few in the country that will allow mothers to bring their babies to the therapy, Weinberg said. Having the babies present helps women with depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder develop critical bonds with their babies, and it relieves the need for mothers to find child care, she said.

The group-based approach helps participants understand that other women share their experiences, she said.

“A lot of these moms feel really alone and isolated,” Weinberg said, “that they're the only moms going through this, that they're a bad mother. … Being in a group setting helps provide them with information that there are other women going through similar things.”

D'Achille said his wife, who was 30 when she died, showed no signs of depression before the birth of their daughter, Adriana. But a traumatic delivery, in which the couple's daughter came out with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, left her mother with post-traumatic stress disorder, D'Achille said.

“She kept thinking she must have done something to the baby with this traumatic delivery,” he said.

She lost weight, had trouble breast-feeding and heard phantom baby cries, he said. The couple saw about seven doctors in the two weeks before her death, he said.

“Everywhere we went, for one reason or another, we didn't get the care that she needed and deserved,” he said.

He founded the Alexis Joy D'Achille Foundation after her death and started talking with people at AHN about how to improve mental health treatment for new mothers. The foundation has raised about $500,000, and so far has given or pledged all of it to AHN's programs, he said.

The hospital system launched an outpatient treatment program in November with similar but less-intensive services than the center will offer, Weinberg said. Twenty-eight women have received treatment through the program so far, she said.

Women can be diagnosed with postpartum depression up to a year after delivery, Weinberg said. The biggest risk factor for postpartum depression is a personal or family history of depression, she said.

“If we can intervene in pregnancy, women have a much better outcome postpartum and a much easier transition to parenthood,” Weinberg said.

Family members will be encouraged to attend for parts of the program at the center, which will last about five hours a day for four or five days a week.

D'Achille said he hopes the model will succeed and he can help spread it to other parts of the country. A restaurateur whose family owns the Pizza Roma franchise and Pomodoro in Franklin Park, he now dedicates most of his time to the foundation.

“To me, it's common sense, like, how could this not exist. But it didn't, so that's what we want to change,” he said.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.