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Detroit hospital program treats violence as a disease, tries to break systemic cycle

DETROIT – Shootings, stabbings and beatings don't sound like diseases, but violence behaves very much in the same way as an untreated illness.

For example, untreated diabetes leads to blindness, amputated limbs, kidney disease and a host of problems, and untreated violence leads to recurrent violence and retaliation. Detroit's Sinai-Grace Hospital on Outer Drive is changing its approach to violence with a program it hopes will cure the disease.

The program is called Detroit Life is Valuable Everyday, or DLIVE, and it was launched in April 2016. The program's goal is simple in concept, to treat violent trauma as a recurring chronic disease.

"We meet with individuals, ages 14 to 30, who have been exposed to community violence, shootings, stabbings and intentional assaults," said Ray Winans. "We meet those individuals at the bedside and offer alternatives. We look to empower individuals. You have the power to control your enviornment."

Winans is the chief violence intervention specialist for the DLIVE program and he has credibility with the patients he treats.

"Violence has been impacting my life since I was in the womb with my mother," Winans said. "Unfortunately, I took a man's life when I was 15 years old."

After Winans served his time in jail, he was able to break the cycle of violence in his life and now works to help others.

"Our job is to make sure you don't come back into this hospital as a victim of violence again and you don't go out and retaliate," Winans said.

Frankie Meyers was shot in the back near his shoulder three years ago. He was treated at Sinai-Grace and was approached by a member of DLIVE.

"They came to my room," Meyers said. "I was recovering and they asked me if I want to participate."

He did, but not everyone does. Winans there have been patients who refused DLIVE and went on to become victims of fatal violence. DLIVE's medical director, Dr. Tolupe Sonuyi, said about half of the victims of violence in Detroit that the hospital treat come back to be treated within five years.

"I don't want the life expectancy of our young people and our people to be determined by their zip code," Sonuyi said.

People have offered different reasons for the chronic nature of violent trauma, but one of the most difficult causes to address is the perceived normalcy.

"I have, to date, five family members, one being very immediate, who have been murdered," said DLIVE's Latoiya Richardson. 

Richardson grew up in a neighborhood where violence was normal and romanticized. She said it was expected, and a day without violence was odd. 

"It happens a lot," Meyers said. "You get numb to certain situations, like, when you hear somebody is dying."

Richardson said she has to get patients to understand that the violence they experience is not a normal thing, and doing that can be difficult.

"Having that conversation with someone means you literally have to talk to their soul," Richardson said.

"It's a lot of heavy lifting that's required to transform trauma," Sonoyi said. "There's crisis management. There's mentorship. There's the mental health component and really providing education around that."

The results shown in helping people change their lives and avoid further trauma are impresive.

"The most profound success of folks that fully participated in the program: zero percent reinjury rate," Winans said. "That's success."

Local 4's Dr. Frank McGeorge has spent most of his career practicing medicine in the city of Detroit and he said he's taken care of the same trauma victims time and time again. McGeorge said the program is saving lives and has the real potential to change the city by giving victims another choice.

DLIVE is giving victims hope.