When massage therapist and instructor Tonya Aiossa learned of the Tucson, Arizona, shootings, which left six people dead and 13 people wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, she knew massage therapy could play a role in the relief effort.
For Aiossa, the desire to help was personal as well as professional: she is a friend of Nancy Barber, wife of Ron Barber, one of the people injured in the shooting and Tucson district director for U.S. Rep. Giffords.
Sitting in her office at Cortiva Institute - Tucson, Aiossa had just finished creating an e-mail message, in which she asked Cortiva faculty to volunteer massage to the victims families, when campus President Deanna Sylvester told her that University Medical Center, where the victims were receiving medical care, had just contacted her and asked if the school had instructors and alumni who might lend a hand.
Sylvester and Aiossa quickly put together a massage team comprising mostly Cortiva alumni and instructors as well as a few massage therapists who graduated from other massage schools. The team members were then escorted by hospital staff into the appropriate areas of the medical facility, including the intensive care unit.
Aiossa said the medical staff seemed hesitant to take a break for massage at first, so she performed seated massage on another therapist. "I had a teammate with me, and I gave her a massage on the massage chair to break the ice a little bit - and once they saw someone else receiving massage, the line started," she said.
"You sit at home watching TV coverage and feel so helpless, so it felt really good to be there and give some tender touch in the wake of such horrible violence," Aiossa added.
Medical staff and victims' families all received massage from the 18 massage therapists over a one-week period, beginning two days after the shooting.
"That's the time the muscles start to show the effects of the stress," Aiossa said. "The hypertonicity was really palpable, so it felt good to be there at those times to relax the tension that had built up."
In late January, University Medical Center took out a page of advertising in the Arizona Daily Star newspaper to thank the people who stepped up to volunteer after the shootings, including Cortiva and each of the massage therapists, Aiossa said. She added that Cortiva-Tucson's staff is in discussion with the medical center's wellness-center representatives to explore the possibility of developing an ongoing massage program there.
-- Karen Menehan
Originally published in Massage Magazine, March 2011, News & Current Events, page 22