"I watched heroin kill my son"

Mother and son.
Mother and son.

Channel 24 reported yesterday that Demi Lovato, the singer of the chart-topping song Sober was rushed to hospital for an opioid overdose. She was apparently given Narcan, the medication used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

The latest news is that Demi is awake and recovering with her family.

A few years ago, a mother shared her son's battle with opioids with us:

This is the first time I'm sharing my story about the loss of my child publicly. It has been 19 months since he passed away at the Linksfield Hospital on the 11th of October 2014 at 15:50.

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I did not think I would ever recover from the pain, the helplessness and the absolute devastation when he died.

At the age of 18, he told us that he was a heroin addict and from then we had him in and out of rehabs (SANCA, ELIM, Harmony Retreat in Greytown). He always came out clean. He was positive and had trust in God and ensured us that he would remain clean. But it was not to be.

We tried the Akeso Psychiatric Hospitals, but this was also to no avail. He always tried to describe to me how he had this fixation with needles, never mind the actual drug. He said he could not explain the demons that were haunting him every second of every day which made him crave that high.

I did not understand him at all.

Eventually at the end of 2013, he got diagnosed with subcutaneous edema, which is an infection under the skin one gets from using dirty needles, and eventually he landed up in hospital to have these infections lanced under general anaesthetic. He went to Akeso Clinic again before he went to Harmony Retreat in Greytown, but he overdosed on all of his medication and had to be admitted to Akeso in Pietermaritzburg before he could go into the rehab again.  

Finally, after a week in Akeso, he went back to Harmony retreat, found a needle and crushed his medication and injected it straight into his buttocks to get rid of the pain in his legs. He then caused a massive infection again and was sent to Greytown Hospital where he was put on aggressive antibiotics. This time there was, however, no physio and no operation.

So finally after being in rehab for two months, he came back up to Jo'burg for a 12-day break at the beginning of October 2014. I took a week off work to be with him and then my husband looked after him for the following week.  However, when I arrived home on the 8th of that month, I saw that my son’s face was very red and he did not look well.  A friend took him to the doctor at Edenvale Medicross and the doctor said he had tonsillitis.

I stayed at home (as I had an accident at work) and was booked off from work. On Friday, the morning of the 10th of October, I heard a ‘flapping sound’ deep in his chest when he was breathing and took him straight to the doctor at Medicross, after nearly three hours she [the doctor] referred him to Linksfield.

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A doctor arrived in the hospital ward, he immediately referred my son to the ICU and said he was very ill, and called the heart surgeon. At about 14:00 the heart surgeon said his heart was as strong as a horse and he’s sure the doctors will make him better. However, Matthew still had this flapping sound in his chest and he was now delirious talking to non-existent people.  I did not understand what was going on.

Eventually, at 15:30 he was settled and I decided to go home, which was 5 kilometers away.  As I arrived home, I received a call from the hospital who told me that my son’s organs were failing and the entire family should come to the hospital immediately.

We arrived and Matthew was now on a dialysis machine for his infection in his blood and many other aggressive antibiotics. He was unconscious because of all the medication and the family went home, while I stayed behind. In the early hours of that morning, he had a relapse and was on 16 machines pumping meds into him. I tried to talk to him but he could just squeeze my finger.

I sat crying next to him throughout the day and when I asked the nurse if I could go home and change, she suggested that I call my husband. Little did I know that my son was taking his last breath and was dying.

I called the whole family, but they could not get there in time as the nurse told me too late that he was dying and within five minutes his heart failed and he passed away. My husband, other son and daughter arrived just after he passed away.

I remember every single detail of what happened in the hospital and could never understand why they had not prepared or even indicated to me that he was dying, considering this happened within 36 hours of him being admitted.

I do not remember anything from then on, only remember seeing people coming to say sorry, and how kind everyone was from our work and then the memorial service.  

The months that followed, I was completely absent-minded and booked myself into Rosebank Hospital to help me cope and understand everything I was going through.

The three week stay helped me tremendously, as the people were there to assist us in coping with the feeling of utmost despair. I noticed they were all very strong women and that I, as a very strong woman also, had a breaking point, and I think from there on I started getting back into reality and started getting on with my life.  

I managed. Not that I did not think of my beautiful son every minute of the day and then cry myself to sleep every night. But I managed. And after 19 months I have been able to say that it is becoming more bearable to live without him.

But what I have to say to mothers of drug addicts is this: watch for the symptoms, take note of your child when they are dealing with infections. Although my son was clean for two months, the infection was still in him, which ultimately took his life in the end. No one, not even the doctors that operated on him indicated that if he is not careful the infection could possibly get worse and even take his life away.

As a family, we lived for three and a half years in constant fear of what he might be doing, whether it was finding him dead in his bedroom or unconscious in the toilet after an overdose with the needle stuck to his arm.

It has been the most frightening and devastating time of our lives and now since Matthew has passed away the pain has become somewhat bearable, as I’ve done everything I possible could for him. It was a very tragic ending to a beautiful young man, who had a kind soul and so much goodness, but at least his struggle with drugs is all over and only with prayer and love have we all been able to cope again.

Do you have a loved one who is or has suffered from addiction? Share us your story.

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