kristin and lion





Kristin’s Story

Kristin lost her life in January 2016 following a heroin overdose after years of struggle with addiction. She graduated with honors from high school with a dream to become a nurse. She floundered in college and quit after a semester because she had already been introduced to the world of prescription drugs. Expensive; it would not take long before she found heroin.

As a family, we struggled to deal with her spiral and tried to intervene and get help. Refusing to leave the area, she agreed to inpatient detox and rehab in Pennsylvania but what we thought would be a 90-day program was rejected by insurance because Kristin had never received qualifying out-patient rehab services. She was out in less than two weeks and vulnerable. Kristin needed help then and she was in a position to receive it but the services were not made available to her.

She followed through as best she could, navigating psychological services and NA meetings but she refused to give up those who influenced her negatively. She remained in this state while navigating the road toward becoming a Mother. With a prescription for methadone due to a relapse, she gave birth to her daughter who required monitoring while she detoxed from the methadone.

We believe Kristin continued the struggle to stay clean, but various incidents with law enforcement put in her jail several times. It is important to understand that the times she spent in jail were the times our family was most at-ease. Kristin was safe and she was clean and she was provided services for her addiction and mental health that she wasn’t so much afforded outside the jail walls, without the influence of others. It is disturbing to realize that making her a criminal was somehow beneficial for her success at staying clean.

Just out of jail after missing Thanksgiving and Christmas, Kristin had been clean but she suffered a health scare and that fear sent her to the one comfort she knew. Kristin’s story is Brooke’s story and it is the story being told over and over by families in our area who cannot get the help their loved one needs. Brooke’s house can be the answer– for women in our area who want to get their lives back.

-Anni Rhule, Smithsburg, MD


Christian’s Addiction

I am a mother of an addict lost to addiction.

The things I didn’t know because I always assumed this couldn’t happen to my child my family, the thoughts that go through my head..What did I do wrong? How did I not see it? Why me? This isn’t about me, this is not about my family, this is about the heroin epidemic and how it touched my family. It has nothing to do with the way my child was raised. He was a good student, he was loved by so many, he played football, he was an expectant father and he was the one his friends came up for advice. Where did it all go wrong? What did I miss? Why didn’t he ask me for help?

Christian Michael Doody born on July 12,1993 and died of fentanyl intoxication on February 23, 2016.

After his death I learned the answers to most of those questions. I’ve learned that when my son broke his hand (boxer fracture) he was given Percocet and after months of being prescribed Percocet, he became addicted. The doctor would no longer give him a prescription, so he started buying the drug in the street. He couldn’t afford his habit but he couldn’t deal with withdraws and didn’t want to disappoint his family, so he didn’t ask for help. From what I understand that’s when the heroin started.

On January 17,2016 I received a phone call that my son was being taken to the hospital because he overdosed. I rushed in a panic to find my son with an oxygen mask on his face and monitors on his heart. My heart dropped…I didn’t know what to say. I was mad. I was in disbelief I was scared. I held the tears back as he told me he was sorry. It was his first time and he’s scared of needles. He said he didn’t know why he did it, and he promised never to do it again. Next thing I know, there are detectives and police officers in the room with us questioning my son, his fiancé, his grandmother and myself. I thought it scared him enough that they kept him in the hospital for three days, treating him for pneumonia. We requested he see a therapist while he was there. They agreed but a snow storm was coming and they released him early…no therapist.

I talked to him often and he always said he was doing well. We went to baby appointments together. I suspected nothing. Was I blind or was he just that good at hiding it?

After his death I received bills from the hospital. He went twice the two weeks prior to his death and they keep sending him home. Why? The first time they said he had the flu, but he was actually going through withdrawals. The second time they told him they were not a rehab facility. He struggled through this alone because he was embarrassed that the hold heroin had on him was too strong. He lost his battle February 23, 2016.

As I lay next to him crying on that day, the anger over came me. A few days later I was told about Brooke’s House and I wanted to help. I asked the many people who attended my son’s funeral, instead of flowers please donate to Brooke’s House. I couldn’t save my son, but I believe with the love and support that Brooke’s House will offer, they can help to save many. The comfort and kind words I got from the Kevin and Dana Simmers, who didn’t even know me, is why I chose to share with others about my son and this project.

-Grace Brice

Mother of Two Addicts

11164625_945905782149393_8186047049099422766_nI am the mother of two addict daughters. Addiction has such a stigma surrounding it, so much guilt attached to it. The truth is it can happen to anyone.

My oldest daughter left our home at 19…she is going to be 30 now. I do hear from her time to time, but we just couldn’t have her in our home.  We had two younger children and she did not want to get help. When she was young, I had so many behavior issues with her.  I had desperately looked for help in many places, including the school and the community, but the options were limited.

Then my middle child came to me and told me she needed help.  I was shocked. She had been doing very well.  She just had a beautiful baby girl and was getting ready to start school. But unfortunately, there were very few options for her, either the methadone clinic or suboxone.  So she went to the methadone clinic. She had been doing well and we were getting ready to move back to NY. But then things changed. I think it was a combination of things that set her off. She had lost both her grandmothers within a 7 week period, she  found out she was pregnant, and her relationship was falling apart. After her second little girl was born things really fell apart for her. She did seek help and kept saying, “there’s something wrong with me, Mom, and no one is listening”.   She tried to get help but everyone who saw her just wanted to medicate her.  The relationship she was in had really gotten bad and he was using as well and was abusive. I’m not sure exactly when she started using again. It’s been over two years that I went to get her and her girls. She was full blown in her addiction and said she was going back to Maryland. There was no way I was letting her take those two innocent, beautiful little girls…they had been through enough. I told my daughter if she didn’t have a plan she could sign the guardianship papers and leave the girls with me or I would make a call and the state would take the girls. I was shocked when she signed the papers. She is currently in the Washington County detention center.  It’s sad but it’s the best sleep I’ve gotten in a long time and at least I know she’s safe.

11265107_945905805482724_3356514712629254166_nWe are currently looking for a long-term rehab and sober living house closer to NY so she can be close to her children. I will not let her in my home until she treats her addiction and learns to live clean and sober. She had tried to find a rehab before she was arrested again, but we hit so many road blocks.  I was told insurance was key, but she doesn’t have insurance.  Most addicts don’t.

There is such a small window when an addict says they want help.  How can we help them if there are few options or resources for them? I would love nothing more than to have my daughter back clean and sober and for these two little girls to have their mom. Skylar just turned 4 and Hailey is 8. They’ve been here with us for over 2 years. I’m hoping that  Brooke’s House is the first of many sober living homes.  There is a huge problem with addiction in this country. We are losing a whole generation to this horrible disease.  It’s not only in the big cities, in fact, it’s the suburbs that have the larger percentage of heroin addiction. No one ever wakes up and says, “I want to be an addict”.  Addiction doesn’t discriminate against the rich, the poor, good solid families…it effects all walks of life and hurts the entire family. It’s hard to love an addict. We need to take a good look at this issue and find a way to treat and cure it.  A large portion of addicts are self-medicating due to underlying mental or emotional issues. We need to not only treat the addiction, but the person as a whole. There are many families who are effected by addiction. I belong to a support group called  “Mothers of Addicts”.  We have over 1500 members from all over the country with all kinds of backgrounds. We definitely need more resources and options. If a person was diagnosed with cancer we don’t say, “We’re not gonna treat you, you’ve smoked and you caused this”.  We treat them.

I am proud to support Brooke’s house. My hope is that they are successful and a model for many more facilities in the future. This is a great thing they are doing. God Bless all that are involved in this project.

-Toni Leatherman

Jordan’s Letter

Jordan-e1525087638959I will battle opioid addiction throughout my entire life. Unfortunately many of those close to me have had their battles come to a tragic end. Every day for the past 11 years, I have been chasing my next high. On June 10, 2017 I woke up from my sleep only to step into a terrible nightmare. I received a devastating phone call informing me that my best friend had passed away from a heroin overdose. At that moment, I realized that I needed to change my life. After 5 attempts in rehab, legal troubles, and financial burdens I thought all hope was gone, until I experienced a halfway house that would change my life forever.

With Kevin Simmers and his family bringing Brooke’s House to our community, it is going to help the struggling women in the area. A very strict and structured program is what the women need in recovery to help rebuild our lives, and teach us how to live a drug free life. Having lots of rules and regulations to follow may not be fun, but it is what is needed to help turn many addicts back to the people that they really want to be. With what is in the making of Brooke’s House, I have no doubt that they will have the highest success rate around. There is no one else that wants to see women succeed more than Mr. Simmers. I know that he will strive to help each and every woman who enters Brooke’s House, so that no other parent has to suffer the same loss as he and his family has.

Nicki Janisko

Our daughter Nicki’s battle with opioid addiction ended on the evening of August 7, 2015. I was awakened shortly before midnight by two Maryland state troopers knocking hard on my door.  They did not have to say anything.  I could tell by the look in their eyes that something terrible had happened. My worst nightmare was confirmed when the troopers told me my beautiful daughter Nicki had passed away from a heroin overdose at the age of 32. The phone calls I had to make to Nicki’s younger siblings and Mother were painful.  The emptiness and sorrow I experienced at this moment is impossible to put into words.  No parent should ever have to bury a child.  It’s just not the way things are supposed to happen.  No child should lose a parent at such a young age.  How could we break this heartbreaking news to Emma, Nicki’s 11 year old daughter?

In spite of Nicki’s struggles with addiction, Emma and her Mom shared a very close bond.  Nicki’s world revolved around our beautiful Granddaughter Emma.  The following is a message that Emma posted on Snapchat not long after she lost her Mom:  “It’s felt like a short time”

But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen you and talked to you… and laughed with you… and hugged you… and I miss you so much.  I just want you to be with me and it’s weird how I remember how soft your hand was… and how I would grab your hand whenever I was sad … and I just calmed down because I knew you were with me… and now I can’t stay calm unless I see a picture of you and everything’s OK again, but it’s still not because you’re not there but I feel like you are.

I was so mad at you at first and wanted to break down and scream, but then I would cry, then I would just not talk about it… and it’s hard to accept the fact that you’re gone, but I’m trying to, “I miss you Mommy.”

I tried my best, we all tried our best to help Nicki get well from her addiction.  Like many parents dealing with a child in addiction, I found myself in uncharted territory.  As a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel, I viewed addicts as weak minded individuals who just needed to toughen up and make better life choices.  I was wrong!  After this horrible disease gripped Nicki’s life, my view of addiction changed forever. Addiction is much more complicated than I ever imagined.  In Nicki’s situation, I received well intentioned advice from individuals such as she needs tough love, you need to let her go with love, you can’t be an enabler, she must hit rock bottom first, etc.  In my opinion, most of this is a bunch of crap.  The Surgeon General has proclaimed addiction a disease.  It needs to be treated that way.  An individual who has cancer cannot will it away.  If a person’s cancer reoccurs that individual is not kicked out of the hospital. Why are addicts treated so much differently?

Over the course of several years, Nicki overdosed eight times.  I would argue there were plenty of “rock bottoms” in there.  I was very involved in Nicki’s up and down battle with addiction.  My frustration trying to find adequate treatment facilities for Nicki would often boil over with anger, confusion, and a feeling of helplessness that could be overwhelming.  Sometimes there was nothing I could do but cry over the thought of possibly losing her.  I deeply regret using the “tough love” approach after Nicki’s last relapse and release from treatment months later.  I did not step up to help her find and pay for a place to live this time.  Advice I received from individuals, and a few support groups, was clear that I should  stop helping Nicki. The message being she needed to figure things out for herself.  Well, Nicki found a seedy apartment that she shared with a couple of other individuals I did not know.  A couple months later my little girl died alone on the bathroom floor of that apartment from a heroin overdose.  I should have trusted my gut, and maybe she would still be here today.  Looking back, like I do just about every day, I should have offered her support, encouragement, and a hand up.  Nicki was beaten down physically and emotionally and needed help, not pushed away.

There is no parent handbook on how to deal with your child’s opioid addiction.  Sadly, a lot of the facilities in existence today place an emphasis on numbers and money over the care of the individual addict.  That was my experience with Nicki.  Overcrowding, unsanitary conditions/bed bugs, and poorly run programs were more the norm.  In general, there exists  coordination issues among providers when transitioning through the various levels of care (e.g. detox, primary treatment, extended care, transitional living and recovery residence).  In Nicki’s case, treatment centers claiming to be dual diagnosis programs did not have the proper staff in place to treat the underlying causes of her addiction relating to bipolar and depression.  Often, there were no spaces immediately available at facilities for Nicki when she was in dire need of treatment.  The waiting period an addict may have to endure before receiving treatment could be a matter of life and death.  On several occasions I had to put Nicki up in hotels until a bed became available.

Aside from the physical and emotional toll addiction has had on my family, the financial burden became tough to deal with as well.  We were not prepared to cope with this nightmare. When Medicaid did not pay for Nicki’s treatment at certain levels of care, I would pay out of pocket.  This becomes very expensive over time, and in a lot of cases has caused many families to go bankrupt. It’s difficult understanding why insurance companies will only pay for 28 days of primary care treatment.  I’m not aware of any hard fast expiration dates on treatment of other diseases.  As a parent with no prior experience with addiction issues, I was very disheartened by the lack of empathy and care my daughter received at many of these facilities. I don’t think Nicki was provided a fair chance at recovery.  As with many addicts who have gone through treatment, Nicki returned to an outside environment that treated addicts with disdain.  The shame and humiliation Nicki lived through was tough to watch.  She never felt quite good enough and had low self esteem. Eventually, the cycle of addiction would repeat itself.  I believe Nicki lost hope and was made to feel less of a human being.  The truth is Nicki was an extremely intelligent and caring individual.  She loved being Emma’s Mom and her work as a nurse.  Nicki was fond of sundresses, flip flops, sunflowers and butterflies.  She was very funny, actually goofy, and had a knack for saying the inappropriate thing at times. She was glowing and fun to be around. Nicki made us laugh.  She was a caregiver to many people, and I have many stories I could share on this.  This is how I choose to remember Nicki’s life, not the dark side of addiction that stole our daughter’s identity.  As a family, we are left trying to pick up the pieces of a shattered life, a life cut too short.  We all miss and love Nicki very much.  I would give anything to be able to hold Nicki again and tell her everything is going to be okay.  It hurts very much to see Emma growing up without her Mom.  I believe Nicki is in heaven and watching over Emma.  This belief helps me to keep moving forward each day.   It does not make the pain go away for my family and others close to Nicki, but it gives us hope.

My reason for joining the board of Brooke’s House was to honor Nicki’s memory and make sure she did not die without purpose.  I have learned through many tough lessons that well run treatment facilities are hard to find, especially for parents who have little experience with addiction.  I have a great deal of respect for our founder Kevin Simmers, our board, and the many individuals and groups in our community who have stepped forward to fight this battle.  This is going to be a long battle and we need continued community support to be successful.

At Brooke’s House we are striving to build a model facility for women in addiction.  Our goal is to provide a structured program that puts women first and gives them a fighting chance at recovery. Our board has spent a great deal of time visiting other treatment facilities, researching, and generally looking for ways to improve recovery success rates with women.  We want our Brooke’s House women to take ownership of their recovery and form a close community. It’s our hope that Brooke’s House will provide the helping hand needed by these young women to become productive members in the community once they leave our house.  We are keenly aware of the lack of treatment facilities available to women in the community and across the country.  We also recognize the unique challenges inherent in a women’s treatment facility, as compared to facilities for their male counterparts, such as physical and sexual abuse to name a few.  The stigma hanging over addiction needs to be removed.  Every life we can help save from addiction is well worth the fight.