My siblings and I grew up in a happy, loving home. My mother and father were separated but both were in our lives. We were not rich by any means, but we got by and we were well taken care of. My mother did her best to raise us with outstanding values and to be ready to give our all to anyone in need. My siblings and I adhered to these lessons and to this day we would do anything for anyone up to and including giving them the shirt of our back.
My brother Mikey was a good child growing up. He was rambunctious and fun loving. He had his moments as many teenage boys do but he, as my mother taught us, would have done anything for anyone at any time. He was known throughout the neighborhood and routinely helped neighbors with yard work, transportation, various household chores and he never expected a dime. He had many friends near and far that valued his friendship and his huge heart. He gave back to his community by working food drives at local businesses. He mentored a few of the neighborhood kids and took them under his wing to keep them out of trouble. This was all until Mikey became addicted to pain pills.
No one in our family can pinpoint exactly when it happened. Mikey was never prescribed many pills for an injury. He very rarely was ill. It is our belief he began using pills recreationally with friends in order to “better his high.” If I have to give my best guess, I would say that Mikey was using for the last 8 years. He had only recently begun injecting heroin.
Mikey’s first overdose was December 11, 2017. He was found in his bedroom in my mother’s basement. He was not breathing and had to be given several doses of Narcan to bring him back. He was combative so they had to tie him to the stretcher to take him out to the ambulance. Mikey was taken to an area hospital. When we finally got back to see him, I could only stay for seconds. The smell of his clothing after vomiting on himself was horrible. He did not look like my brother. He looked like a monster. There were restraints on his arms and legs. He was breathing heavily and looked pale. This was not my brother. This was in fact a demon who had taken over my brother’s life.
Mikey’s second overdose was 3 days before Christmas. Again, he was found in my mother’s basement unresponsive. Again, it took several doses of Narcan to bring him back. This time he was not as combative. I could not go to this hospital to see him this time. In my mind all I could see was what he looked like the first time he overdosed. All I could see was the demon lying in the bed, tied to the sides so he would not hurt himself or others. Shortly after he was taken to the hospital, they did have to restrain him again. They had him on medication to help him relax. Unfortunately, when it wore off the demons came back and he was an evil mess. Mikey left the hospital on Christmas morning again medical advice.
One of Mikey’s favorite days was Christmas. He loved walking around in his Santa hat trying to make all the kids smile. He was always shorter, so we all looked at him as the Christmas elf. No matter his age he was always the excited kid waking up Christmas morning running up the stairs to see what Santa had brought. Unfortunately, that year when Mikey got to my mother’s house, he was on so many drugs that I am not sure he even knew he was home. He did however know that he wanted a fix. Mikey did not receive any cash for Christmas as we all bought him things he couldn’t readily trade for drugs. He was so mad about this. He threw presents around. He became angry and tossed the kids toys out the front door. He did not wear his Santa hat. Everyone left my mother’s house that evening so mad at him for how he acted. We all believed he had literally ruined Christmas for everyone. That would be the last time I spoke to my baby brother. If I had only known that would be the last Christmas with him.
I received a call at approximately 11:00 on Sunday January 15, 2017. My sister was on the line and told me that “Mikey did it this time.” He was found unresponsive in his bedroom. The squad was called. They were working on him the best they could, but they could not get him to breathe again. My stepfather was on the phone with the 911 operator who was walking him thru the steps to give Mikey CPR. I will say this was the longest 5 mile drive from my home to my mother’s. Every light was red. Every car in front of us was driving so slowly. By the time I made it to my mother’s house I felt it. I felt that Mikey was gone. All I could do was collapse on the cold sidewalk and scream in anger while crying out in pain. My baby brother, My Mikey was gone. We followed the squad to the hospital where the staff put us in a family waiting room where we sat with very little information for 2 hours.
Finally, a nurse came in and took us up to a meeting room in ICU. A team of doctors came in and told us the news. They feared Mikey was brain dead, but they were going to leave him on the machines overnight until they could determine for sure.
The next morning I was the first one at the hospital. I sat next to my brother and cried. I argued with God that if he would just bring my Mikey home, I would do everything in my power to help him fight this addiction he tried so many times to overcome. If he would just give my mother back her son, I would speak for everyone and work to help end this epidemic in any way I possibly could. I would be the loudest voice out there. Just give my brother back and I would do anything I had to.
The doctors came in later that day to meet with the family. There was a representative from Life Line of Ohio there as well. The doctors determined Mikey was brain dead. We could make the choice to donate those organs that were salvageable and help others to live on. We agreed. Little did we know that process would take an additional two long, agonizing days of listening to the vital machines as they beeped. The smell of the hospital cleaner was becoming repulsive. The nurses continued coming in and out, checking various things.
On January 17th we found out that Mikey would be able to donate his heart (which was huge and full of love), his lungs (which used to be so full of air), his kidneys, pancreas and liver to save 4 lives. At midnight on January 18, 2017, I said goodbye to my brother for the last time.
My brother has physically left this earth; however we see little signs from him every day. We see the squirrels coming to steal peanuts off the porch and the bird that sits contently and watches my mother as she works in her flower garden. The crazy, Mikey like things that my nieces and nephews do. When I trip and fall up the stairs because someone grabbed my foot but nobody is there. The song that comes on at just the right time when I am thinking about him on the way to work every morning. The sun breaking through the clouds just when I think it’s too hard to be without him.
There are so many faces behind this epidemic. The 72,000 that we lost in 2017. All the mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of the 72,000 that we lost in 2017. The millions more that struggle with addiction every day. The millions of mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers that watch as their loved one struggles and fights through addiction every day. When will enough be enough? When will this end? How many more faces will it take to end this? My Mikey does not physically walk with me anymore, but he is with me every step of the way and will continue to stand beside me as I work to help those that I can.
Christina Preston, Sister behind a face of addiction