by Marta LeFleor- Board member, McShin Foundation
For me, this one word evokes a vast variety of emotions.
This is Brenna, my sweet, loving, smart, artistically talented, compassionate daughter. This is a shy little girl who was wiser than her years and a young teenager who, if the front door to her dreams didn’t open, always found a way around to the back door. This is the part of me that I grieve for every day. Her life has become my motivation.
The first college basketball game she went to introduced her to cheerleaders and becoming one became a her passion. She started by cheering for a community team and by the time she hit high school, she was coaching the community team and cheering for the school.
Our tragedy began at a high school cheering practice where someone fell on her, resulting in several fractured vertebrae and prescriptions for a LOT of opioids. This was 2006/07 before anybody I knew was talking about an addiction crisis. There were no warnings from the doctor or pharmacist, no caution stickers on the bottles of pills and nothing to prepare us for the brain changes we were soon to encounter.
She managed a silent battle to keep her addiction under control until the day she turned 18. Then the dam broke and addiction consumed her. She spent 4 years in active addiction, living with friends, sleeping on couches and doing whatever the disease demanded of her.
When she finally decided she’d had enough she opted for methadone treatment. The medication kept her symptoms at bay but had terrible side effects and she asked to be weaned off. Not surprisingly, with no counseling or 12-step support, almost as soon as the medication was out of her system her substance use disorder grabbed control again.
She didn’t waste time
She chose to go to a treatment facility out of state. Once she completed their program (less than 60 days) they sent her to a sober living community. If I had only realized how bad this placement was she would have been out of there within a day.
They had to get up at 2am to leave at 3am for an hour bus ride to work 10-hour days and then an hour ride back home. Support? Really – not even time in the day for meetings. There were no house supervisors, so there was nobody to hold the person who was bringing opioids into the house accountable. Once again, substance use disorder reared its ugly head – this time with dire consequences.
On the morning of December 8, 2014, I received the call that every parent dreads – my beautiful daughter had overdosed and was in “extremely critical” condition in an Atlanta hospital. It was a nightmare flight just to have them pull us aside almost as soon as we arrived and ask permission to remove her from life support.
Second opinions and additional tests revealed that only 2 small portions of her brain retained any function – one of those allowed her to feel pain – there really wasn’t any choice. My daughter died in my arms at 5:23pm on December 10.
I am grateful to her first responders – they allowed me to talk to her, read to her, hold her. I’d like to believe she knew we were there and was comforted by that.
Brenna’s spirit walks with me now helping me to inform & educate, guiding me to compassion as I teach crocheting and quilting to the participants at our local RCO, and shining a light on many other small ways her life can make a difference.