Heroin: A story of grief and hope
Updated: Monday, March 24 2014, 11:24 AM EDT
By: Justin Platek and Marty Radovanic
ROCKWOOD, Pa. -- Lisa Calkins-Wright sits on the couch inside her Rockwood home, a log cabin with intricate woodwork and high ceilings. A loft is situated above the main living space, and a Christmas tree still stands weeks after the holiday passed.
It's a warm home to anybody who doesn't know any better. But the truth is, this place holds pain and memories few can understand.
"I spent three months in a fetal position," Calkins-Wright said, pointing to her bedroom. "Trying to wrap my mind around what happened to me."
Lisa knew that her 18-year-old son, Dak, was battling a heroin addiction. He even admitted it to her over the phone during a frantic call one weekday afternoon.
"He told me he was snorting heroin," she said. "[He said] I didn't go to school. I want to get off this stuff."
And Dak tried. Lisa watched him go through withdrawal, holding him at night as he shook and vomited in bed as the heroin filtered itself out of his system.
"I thought that was it," she said.
Dak returned to school and passed classes he struggled for years to understand, including geometry, and graduated last June.
As far as Lisa was concerned, heroin was gone. But the hopes and dreams she had for her son soon were shattered.
A few weeks after graduation, Lisa found needles hidden in Dak's room.
"At that point, I said that's it, you're out of my house," she said.
Lisa kicked Dak out, allowing him to return home for meals and to shower. He never stayed long. Then one Saturday night, the police came knocking.
"He sat down and said, 'Your son is dead.'"
Those words still choke Lisa. She pauses as she says them, as if she doesn't believe those words are coming out of her own mouth.
But reality sets in. Dak is gone. And Lisa blames herself.
"I didn't fight for his life," she said. "I didn't know how to fight."
Dak died of a powerful combination of heroin and fentanyl. The morphine-like substance was mixed in with the drug, probably without his knowledge.
He died quickly and alone in a car, a mile away from his mother's house.
Lisa plays countless scenarios in her mind.
What if I knew more?
What if I got him professional help?
Why didn't I take the time to learn how deadly heroin is?
Why didn't I know you don't kick heroin? It kicks you.
Despite the heartache and sorrow, Lisa refuses to let her son's life be in vain.
"If my son can die, your son can die! Die! Death!" she screamed in an almost maniacal fashion.
But there's powerful truth behind those words.
No child, man or woman is immune from heroin addiction.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 3 percent of school-aged children will try the drug. Forty-thousand people in Pennsylvania are users and more than half a million more are addicted across the country.
"It's a plague. It's a beast," she said. "I was an uninformed parent who thought it could not, would never happen to me."
Lisa is taking that message to any parent, grandparent or caregiver who will listen.
"Wake up!," she likes to tell them.
Dak is never far from Lisa's heart. She wears his old Seven Springs lanyard around her neck like the most prized-piece of jewelry ever crafted. She keeps his death certificate and toxicology report within close reach.
Two pieces of paper, she'll tell you, no parent wants to possess.