Stories and Viewpoints

Ana Petry Draws on Professional Experience to Work Through Aftermath of Personal Tragedy

 

April 15, 2024

 

In her role as the Head of Corporate Affairs and Market Access for Viatris in Brazil, one of Ana Petry’s responsibilities is supporting patient advocacy and awareness efforts – among them, the Yellow September campaign promoting mental health and suicide prevention.

 

For Ana, the work has always been meaningful; she often thought if she could help even a single person, it would be a valuable experience. What she didn’t know was that one day, one of the people she would reach was herself.

 

In October 2022, her older brother, an entrepreneur and private pilot, decided to take a flight in their hometown of Porto Alegre in southern Brazil. His airplane crashed into a lake, and his body disappeared. He was only 47 years old.

 

Hearing the news from her mother, Ana immediately boarded a plane in Sao Paulo, where she now lives, and flew home to be with her extended family.

 

For five days, their lives felt like a horror movie. There was no information. Images of the plane began to appear on local television stations covering the accident. Reporters kept calling. But there was no sign of her brother.

 

“You sleep and wake, and sleep and wake, and there’s no news,” Ana said. “It was more than a trauma. It changes a family.”

 

Finally, at the end of that impossibly long week, searchers located her brother’s body. Ana was grateful for the closure; but the impact of the accident was only beginning.

 

“Because of that experience, I developed anxiety, and I started to think that anything could happen. Like: who will die next?” Ana recalled.

 

If her husband was 10 minutes late from picking their son up from school, she was convinced that something bad had happened to them. If she called and nobody answered, her heart would start racing and she would have difficulty breathing, imagining her brother’s accident. She would wake up at night, over and over again. She kept losing things and feeling distracted.

 

“I was always waiting for more bad news – because if something like that could happen to my family, anything can happen,” she said.

 

From her work on mental health awareness campaigns, Ana began to recognize some signs that what she was experiencing was beyond grieving; she needed help.

 

“It is ironic, but I think I’m lucky that I had this knowledge and experience, because I could turn something bad into something that I could deal with and overcome,” she said. “My professional experience was key for me in my personal experience.”

 

Early recognition of the need for help was key to helping her recover, she said. She set an appointment with a healthcare provider who explained that her body was stuck in a hypervigilant mode because of the trauma she experienced.

 

Ana’s plan started with re-establishing her sleep patterns, followed by reinforcing good habits in her daily routine. She began to increase her exercise, adding swimming, which she had always enjoyed. Pilates also helped her address her anxiety.

 

Medication can also help, but is only part of the treatment, she emphasized. Focusing on her family, her hobbies, her work and other parts of her life made a significant difference.

 

“If there is something that I’ve learned from this hard, hard experience, it’s that I need to prioritize myself in my wellbeing,” Ana said.

 

Speaking about her brother has also been helpful, although she points out that everyone in her family responds differently. What matters most is understanding what is effective for each individual.

 

When she feels herself becoming anxious, Ana tells herself to pause, breathe, go for a walk with her dog, play with her son – something that interrupts the cycle of anxiety. Then she assesses: is she facing a problem that she needs to address? Or is it noise? Will it matter in five years? Five months? Or can she let it go?

 

“I try to break that moment when I’m feeling like there’s something here that I’m not comfortable with,” she said, adding that she tells herself: “Let’s just see if this is something that really, really needs to take your calm and your mental health – because it’s not worth it.”

 

Her Viatris colleagues and managers offered her an outpouring of support.

 

“It was big for me. I felt I am part of a community here at Viatris, so they really respect me as a person, not just as a professional,” Ana said. “You need to pause, to reflect, to take a breath. I would like to encourage people to also do that more often, because you can only offer your best to your company, to your team, to the world if you are feeling OK.”

 

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