Caitlyn's Story After dating in college, Billy and I got married, moved to Virginia Beach, coached baseball and tennis at Old Dominion University, and had 5 children. We were good parents. We read to our kids, played with them, encouraged their interests, supported their passions, and valued education. We had rules and consequences, modeled a strong work ethic, and were involved in church. We talked, laughed, cried, and prayed with our children. Sadly, when it comes to addiction, none of that mattered.
On April 30, 2013, our daughter, Caitlyn, died of a heroin overdose.
This is our story.
Caitlyn was a beautiful, kind, and funny young lady. As a child, she was the 4th in a family of 5 kids enjoying the life of a typical little girl. She loved anything pink or animal print, playing dress-up, and jumping on the trampoline. She was also very athletic, tough as nails, and extremely competitive. She had a kind heart - always taking up for the underdog, bringing stray animals home, and handing over her paycheck to co-workers who needed the money. Her siblings called her "fish face" (nobody knows why!), and Billy and I affectionately called her "Katie - lady - lou."
Caitlyn played several sports but by 8th grade decided to focus on her favorite, soccer. She played on her school and travel teams, racking up several MVPs along the way. She played with agility, speed, and reckless abandon. Unfortunately, she also played with constant back pain. The doctors told us she had the back of an 80-year-old. Surgery was not an option, so we tried other alternatives that included physical rehab, steroid injections, chiropractic procedures, reflexology, acupuncture, and simply not playing. Nothing helped. The doctors decided to prescribe her heroin, but they called it OxyContin. During a game in high school, she went up for a header and came down on the defender's head, knocking out her front teeth and breaking her nose. Surgery and 9 root canals later, she was once again prescribed heroin, this time disguised as Percocet. About a year later she went to the hospital because of kidney stones and left the ER with more heroin, now labeled Dilaudid.
Before we knew it, Caitlyn had become dependent on painkillers.
We knew she was taking the medication but had no idea how dangerous it was or what it was doing to her brain and body. Not a single doctor nor dentist ever told us to be careful or that these drugs were highly addictive. There were never any conversations or education about opioids. We simply followed the doctors' directions. Next, as her tolerance level increased, she had to take more and more. We later learned she got pills from some of her high school soccer teammates. We think she began buying pills and doctor shopping in order to get more prescriptions. We saw a big red flag when Caitlyn stole her brother's pain medicine while he was home recovering from a very serious facial injury. We immediately got her into an outpatient drug rehab program. We took her to private counseling. Things got better. Things got worse. It was a roller coaster. We tried tough love, telling her she couldn't live in our home if she chose to continue using. We tried not having any rules at all. She went to a 28-day residential treatment center. None of us, Caitlyn included, knew what a strong hold these opioids had on her. We all thought if and when Caitlyn wanted to stop, she would. We got so frustrated with the relapses and the broken promises. I remember Caitlyn questioning her own sanity, she could not understand why she couldn't stop. She was ashamed and embarrassed. Then one day, a "friend" of hers talked her into trying heroin. After all, it's the same thing as the pills but much cheaper and easier to get. Soon afterward, Caitlyn told me she had tried heroin and was scared. She wanted to go to rehab again, beat this addiction and get away from her "friends" who were also using. We took her back to the residential treatment center. A few weeks later, she applied to a sober living house and moved in. She was doing great and she was ready to move forward. She was excited and determined. She got a job and was doing what she was supposed to in order to get well. She was proud of herself. We were proud and so happy and relieved she was finally doing it - beating this addiction! Winning the battle!
Then, on a bright, sunny, spring morning, a detective knocked on our door delivering the worst news a parent could get. Caitlyn was dead, she had died from a heroin overdose. Alone, in a locked bathroom of the sober living house. Our sweet, precious Caitlyn was gone. I had just seen her that day. We had taken her daughter to the playground, gone to lunch, and then dropped her off at work. She called me that night after she got back to the house. She was tired and her back was hurting. She had read something on Facebook that upset her. I advised her to get off FB and to go soak in the tub. I would pick her up the next morning at 10 for a counseling appointment. We said our goodnights. Never, in a million years, thinking it would be our last good night, our final goodbye.
Our grief journey is hard and extremely painful. We miss Caitlyn terribly. We don't want others to have to experience this deadly disease and the destruction and devastation it leaves behind. Through our work, Caitlyn's legacy will be one of hope, help, and healing. We are not going to hide behind the stigma of drug addiction. We hope others will learn from our story. Be informed, ask questions, and have a game plan. Most importantly, talk to your kids, grandchildren, and friends. Don't keep your head in the sand thinking that addiction can't enter your life. It can. It does. Statistics show it will.
Caitlyn's HALO is here to help.