After He Died From An Opioid Overdose, She Got A New Chance At Life

Nov 17, 2017
Originally published on November 17, 2017 12:04 pm

When Adam Shay overdosed on heroin at 21 in 2014, his kidney and pancreas went to Karen Goodwin, a recovering addict herself. That unintended consequence of the opioid epidemic brought Goodwin together with Adam's mom, Marlene Shay.

At StoryCorps in Beachwood, Ohio, Shay recalls the day she got the call that every mother dreads.

Adam "had been in and out of rehab over the last three years, but he had been sober for a year and seemingly had it all together," she says. "And that day, we got a call from his fiancée that he overdosed and was slipping away."

But her son's death gave Goodwin a second chance at a healthy life.

"Well, you know, if it wasn't for Adam, I wouldn't be here," Goodwin tells Shay. "Right after I had my transplant — I was still in the hospital even — my sister brought me a copy of Adam's obit. And she said, 'I think this is your donor. Your donor's 21 and this kid's 21. Look at all these similarities.' "

Because of the high risk of transplant rejection in the first year, Goodwin says she waited to talk to Shay.

"If Adam's organs failed, I felt like it would almost be like you losing him and then losing another part of him," Goodwin says. "But also, because I knew he was a recovering addict, I had the opportunity to give Adam that year of clean time and give that back as a gift to you."

Shay was touched by a letter Goodwin sent that explained her own history of addiction. "It was just this gentle reassurance that came over me that this is going to be OK," Shay says. "And I will say again, thank you."

The gratitude is mutual. "For all purposes, I should've died a long time ago," says Goodwin, who is now 17 years sober. "And so I've always felt a responsibility to stay clean and sober to myself and my family but now it's like I have another family to stay clean for."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher Morris and Grace Pauley.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today from StoryCorps, two women brought together by a surprising consequence of the opioid epidemic. So many young people are dying of overdoses that organ donations have gone up in some parts of the country.

So sometimes these tragedies can help people like Karen Goodwin. Goodwin needed a kidney and a pancreas a few years ago. She got them after Adam Shay overdosed on heroin. Goodwin, who is a recovering addict herself, sat down at StoryCorps with Adam's mom, Marlene.

KAREN GOODWIN: Can you tell me about the day Adam died?

MARLENE SHAY: He had been in and out of rehab over the last three years. But he had been sober for a year and seemingly had it all together. But as a mother, you always dread that call. And that day, we got a call from his fiance that he overdosed and was slipping away.

GOODWIN: Well, you know, if it wasn't for Adam, I wouldn't be here.

SHAY: I know.

GOODWIN: When I got the call to come in, they said the reason you have this donor is because he OD on heroin. And right after I had my transplant - I was still in the hospital even - my sister brought me a copy of Adam's obit. And she said, I think this is your donor. Your donor was 21, and this kid's 21. Look at all the similarities.

But I wanted to wait to talk to you because I knew the most chance of rejection would be in the first year. And if Adam's organs failed, I felt like it would almost feel like you losing him and then losing another part of him. But also, because I knew he was a recovering addict, I had the opportunity to give Adam that year of clean time and give that back as a gift to you.

SHAY: Then your beautiful letter came, and you told us about, you know, your addiction. And it was just this gentle reassurance that came over me that this is going to be OK. And I will say, again, thank you.

GOODWIN: For all purposes, I should've died a long time ago. And so I've always felt a responsibility to stay clean and sober to myself and my family. But now it's like I have another family to stay clean for.

MARTIN: That's Karen Goodwin with Marlene Shay for StoryCorps in Beachwood, Ohio. Karen has been sober for 17 years. Their interview will be archived at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps' Great Thanksgiving Listen is next week. This is a chance for students to interview their elders. Educators can learn more at thegreatlisten.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELUVIUM'S "GENIUS AND THE THIEVES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.