Shannon Rouse Ruiz has become a fierce advocate for stopping medicine abuse. With the tragic death of her teenage daughter, she went on to start P.E.A.C.E. – Prescription Education Abuse Counseling Empowerment.
This is a growing problem that needs a lot of attention. I am therefore very appreciative that Ms. Ruiz accepted my request for this interview. She is truly inspirational in that despite going through every parent’s worst nightmare, she has been able to continue on beyond her loss towards renewed meaning and purpose.
- Would you share some background on your daughter’s life/death, to allow us (readers) to know her a bit?
Kaitlyn was a hard working 16 year old. She had been active in soccer and competitive cheerleading. She held a job and maintained an “A” average. She had a great personality and to know her was to love her. She had a big heart for people. During cheerleading practice when Kaitlyn was in 8th grade, she tore her ACL. After surgery, she was prescribed pain medicine.
After Kaitlyn recovered, she tried to go back to cheering, but couldn’t get her knee to work the same as it used to. She was left without any sports or activities. She felt left out during her recovery and lost connection with her friends. It is very hard when you are in middle school and your whole world gets turned upside down, especially when you have to find new friends.
Kaitlyn struggled with prescription addiction for 2 years. The first year we had no idea. The signs were there but the last thing a parents wants to do is admit their own child is dealing with drug abuse. In 2010, things had gotten out of control. I was being called to pick her up from the police department, which became a normal thing for us. Because she was a minor and looked cute, they kept sending her home. I can’t tell you how many times I begged for help! I ended up charging my daughter with assault. As bad as I felt, I took a deep breath and thought that everything was going to be O.K. Finally!
Kaitlyn was ordered to go to rehab for 120 days and sat in juvenile hall for 29 days before a bed became available. As bad as I hated for her to go, I actually felt a sense of relief.
On March 9, 2011, I went to Greenville to pick up Kaitlyn. We all knew she wasn’t ready to come home but our hands were tied.
On June 23, 2011 Kaitlyn was pronounced brain-dead. Because of a combination of Fentanyl and Xanex, she overdosed and went into a chemically induced coma. She stopped breathing and choked on her own vomit. This cut off blood flow to her brain and caused it to swell. This led to her brain death.
We were told that because CPR was started early, we could donate her organs. Only 2% of people who die are able to donate and she was a perfect candidate.
Looking back to June 20, everything seemed to be perfect. Only God knows why Kaitlyn chose this day to relapse. This one bad choice has not only affected her, but everyone in her life. She left behind a mother, two sisters, a grandpa, two nephews, a boyfriend and many people who loved her.
- What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?
I would have to say my faith. After my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I was her caregiver. It truly tested my faith. Her courage and will to seek God without complaint strengthened my belief that everything happens for a reason, and we are a part of a bigger plan.
- Was there a specific moment, thought, epiphany that helped guide you to a better place mentally and psychologically, or did it evolve?
The night of my daughter’s accident, it was life God had his hands on me. When God speaks to you, you just know that you know. One week after her death I was thinking about events that had happened and it was like Kaitlyn put closure on certain things, and I asked God what I was to do with this. All I knew was to take this tragedy and educate kids and their parents.
- What are your day-to-day coping skills that keep you afloat?
I cry daily. I tell people I work with to just let it be and I use it to fuel me to make a difference.
- What thought propels you forward?
I did not want another child to suffer with addiction or another parent to have to bury their child!
- In general, how have you managed to rebuild your life after your tragic loss?
I focus on community change. I have dedicated my life to help stop medicine abuse. I have also changed the way I communicate with people, especially my children. I don’t tend to take things as personal attacks. I started the P.E.A.C.E. Foundation. It’s a non-profit organization. Our mission is to educate the public about the dangers of prescription drugs and empower them with the knowledge to recognize and stop abuse before it starts.
I am the coordinator for my county’s substance abuse coalition. I sit on various councils all in the hope of making a difference.
- What advice can you offer someone going through a tragic loss in the hope of coming out of the darkness intact and towards the light once again?
Look up! Let God be your comfort. If you have a loved one suffering from addiction, realize it’s not about you. Their brain is chemically altered and they are not the same. Don’t give up! Learn a new way of communicating, and love them, because I promise you right now they don’t love themselves. They want to be that little angel again and they just don’t know how or where to start.
Check out this important site: the Medicine Abuse Project.
How can we work towards minimizing this problem? What’s our part in this growing epidemic?
Thanks for stopping by. Please share this; it’s too important not to.