For many people, the words domestic violence bring to mind images of a male abuser and a female victim.
“The truth is, domestic violence is much broader than this narrow picture of abuse,” says Carla Diaz-Lewis. “A number of people can be impacted by domestic violence, including children, the elderly, caregivers, or anyone living within a household.”
Carla serves on the Board of Directors for Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, a nonprofit organization focused on family violence intervention and prevention, but she isn’t only an advocate. As a survivor of domestic violence, Carla knows firsthand just how prevalent it can be and how survivors of abuse face repercussions that can linger for the rest of their lives.
In her youth, she experienced physical, verbal, and emotional abuse from adults, both male and female. After leaving the situation in her late teens, the effects of domestic violence extended to homelessness, depression, self-medication, and hospitalization from an attempted suicide.
“Domestic violence is a major public health concern,” Carla says. “It causes a ripple effect of repercussions. Survivors can slip into drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness, and criminal behavior; have lasting mental health issues; or find themselves victims of human trafficking. It can strike across all cultures, genders, socioeconomic levels, and sexual orientation.”
Through her determination, hard work, and perseverance, opportunities began to present themselves, and Carla secured a job in the oil and gas industry, which enabled her to become financially stable.
Leaving an abusive environment is only the beginning. “Healing the trauma can be a life-long journey,” she explains. Although life had improved dramatically, her past experiences with domestic violence had lingering effects, and she struggled with issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.
With a passion for preventing domestic violence and helping survivors, Carla and her husband, Kenneth Lewis, made a commitment to establish the Carla Diaz-Lewis Domestic Violence Lecture Series at Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth.
“Education about the topic of domestic violence holds the key to prevention and intervention," Carla says.
The annual lecture series, which begins in October 2021, will teach health care workers and community members how to identify and assist victims of domestic violence—important training especially for frontline workers like nurses, who may be the first resource for people seeking help. The first lecture will feature Jacquelyn “Jackie” Campbell, PhD, RN, a national leader in nursing research and advocacy who serves on faculty at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.
“As nurses, we care for those affected by domestic violence but often times do not know it is happening,” says Diane M. Santa Maria, DrPH, RN, Dean of Cizik School of Nursing and holder of The Jane and Robert Cizik Distinguished Chair and Huffington Foundation Endowed Chair in Nursing Education Leadership. “We need to find and advocate for evidence-based, safe ways of disclosing violence and seeking care.”
Domestic violence has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic as lockdowns forced households to spend more time together indoors. It adds to the urgency in Carla and Kenneth’s gift, which they hope will lay the foundation for a future hub of domestic violence research and education at UTHealth.
Their gift follows the launch of UTHealth Houston’s first comprehensive fundraising campaign: Many Faces. One Mission. One of the campaign’s main impact areas focuses on improving Houston’s health, which will see the many faces of UTHealth Houston—including donors like Carla and Kenneth—come together to tackle major health challenges like domestic violence.
“We see this lectureship as a critical first step to meeting the needs of people impacted by domestic violence locally and across the nation,” says Santa Maria. “This lecture series will allow us to strengthen our connections to community providers, increase the knowledge of how to assess for and assist in caring for those affected by domestic violence, and conduct research on prevention and treatment.”
Kenneth, a member of the Cizik School of Nursing Advisory Council and UTHealth Development Board, sees UTHealth as a powerful force for health care in the Houston community—one he can be confident will bring Carla’s vision to life.
“We want to support the work of this institution so it can continue to make this kind of positive difference in our city,” he says
“Now, with the loving support of my wonderful husband, I am grateful to have the opportunity to help others—and maybe even heal myself in the process,” Carla says.