I was on the Long Island Rail Road headed for Penn Station. As on every workday, I was preoccupied with meeting agendas, my hectic schedule, and the responsibilities of being the single mother of three.
Suddenly, my phone rang. I will never forget the uncontrollable sobbing in the voice of my youngest son, Andrew, as he choked out the words: “He’s dead, Tom’s dead!
When I arrived home, Suffolk police had sealed my house as a crime scene. Substance Use Disorder, specifically a heroin overdose had claimed my 21-year-old son, Thomas, on March 14,2012.
Thomas was a bright adventurous boy who grew into a sensitive young man, a star athlete at Kings Park High School who dreamed of playing lacrosse in college. But from age 18 until his death, my son attended several outpatient rehabilitation programs, several five-day detox programs and two 28-day inpatient programs.
He had been home for just one day from a 21-day rehabilitation center when he died. The night before, Thomas was clearheaded, talking about what he wanted to accomplish. It’s a memory I cherish most: My daughter, Jennifer, was not home, but my two boys were being brothers, roughhousing, laughing and eating. At 7:15 the next morning, Andrew found Thomas dead of an overdose.
Our family dynamics began to change in 2004: Within three short years, my children lost three grandparents, and my husband and I divorced. My middle child began to use drugs and his life ultimately became consumed by heroin.
Amid all the stress of losing loved ones, Thomas began to self-medicate with marijuana, which opened the door to other drugs. As a family, we watched powerlessly as a healthy, vibrant teenager quit sports, and became broken and imprisoned by this insidious opiate. Heroin robbed me of my precious Thomas and left an unrecognizable young man. He became a mean, deviant thief.
The rawness of that tragic day comes back to me every day for we lose three people every two days to this insidious disease.
I was quiet the first year after Thomas’ death, spending quiet time, being mindful of my very raw emotions. In February 2013, I heard a distinct voice in my head saying – “You’ve been quiet long enough!” Thomas’ Hope Foundation was established in March 2013 and is dedicated to promoting drug addiction awareness, prevention, and achieving victory for those individuals seeking sobriety through education, advocacy, research and treatment.
In 2014, I became a passionate advocate and (along with many other families from Long Island and across NYS) helped to influence change in New York State law with the passage of twelve bills directed at access to treatment. I was honored to work with NYS OASAS to film a nationwide Public Service Announcement and to create the Kitchen Table Toolkit available for all parents, schools and youth organizations.
I was honored to stand with Governor Cuomo in 2016 where he signed into law a comprehensive Legislative Package that limited opioid prescriptions from 30 to 7 Days, requires mandatory prescriber education on pain management to stem the tide of addiction, eliminates burdensome insurance barriers to treatment, the established youth club houses and recovery centers throughout the state.
I am proud to be on the Board of Directors for Families in Support of Treatment (FIST) and St. Joseph’s Treatment Facility in Saranac Lake. Thomas’ Hope Foundation produces a weekly television show entitled “Resolutions for Recovery” (formerly known as Long Island in Crisis”) and the episodes can be viewed by accessing the website, wwwthomashopefoundation.org.
On April 19, 2017, I was honored to introduce the honorable Andrew M. Cuomo and witness his signature on a bill that provides $214 million-(a $25 million increase) in funding for prevention, treatment, recovery and education services across the state.
On May 9, 2017, I was extremely humbled and honored to be awarded the New York State Senate “Woman of Distinction” for Senator John Flanagan’s district!
Thomas’ Hope Foundation next mission is to empower and educate the family members struggling for it is the family that is the link to create the support system for recovery.
In closing, I always prayed for a strong, peaceful Thomas, and I have a strong, peaceful Thomas just not in the way I had envisioned. I cannot and will not ever question the decision that was made by my God. Faith is seemingly easy when everything is going your way; it is in those unspeakable times that we all must surrender and have faith beyond reason.
From the surreal moment of my middle son’s passing, I remember telling my other children, “Life is still good and meant to be embraced and enjoyed”.
I miss my son, Thomas, every second of every day. I know he walks in paradise. My purpose now is to create change in all aspects of life for patients and their families struggling with Substance Use Disorder and to spread prevention!