Only two weeks after her 19-year-old son died from a heroin overdose, his mother sent an email titled "A story that needs to be heard" to prep sports writer Dave Oberhelman.
The note from Wheaton Warrenville South High School tennis coach Patti Clousing implored Oberhelman, who had recently profiled another Clousing child's athletic accomplishments, to write about an important upcoming event at WWS: an appearance at the school by Chris Herren, a former NBA player who struggled with heroin addiction.
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"People need to come and hear him, and also know that we are losing young athletes to this dangerous drug," she wrote. "I know our son is not the only one. The community needs to know there is a way out for these kids, and the more the word is out there -- like our Chris Herren night at WW South -- the more we can be proactive before any more lives are lost."
It turns out that the school did not want the Herren event publicized, so that story never happened. But Oberhelman passed along Patti's note to DuPage Editor Bob Smith, who in turn asked staff writer Jessica Cilella to see if Patti and her husband, Joel, would agree to talk about Keenan's battle with heroin.
The Clousings didn't just share, they opened up their lives and their hearts in the story on today's front page. Patti and Joel detailed Keenan's struggle that began with alcohol and marijuana and escalated to heroin, telling the story from their viewpoint but also by sharing a handwritten "testimony" he wrote during several stints in jail.
In his writings, Keenan seems like a self-aware, well-meaning kid who went astray. He casts no blame at anyone but himself; he praises his parents for giving him a good religious foundation to lead a "Christ-like life." He wrote how his popularity (he was being groomed to be Wheaton Warrenville's starting quarterback) had gone to his head, and with that status came his use of recreational drugs. He told of his disappointment in letting his family down, but what comes through strongest is the notion of "hope" -- the title of a poem he wrote from jail.
Cilella focused on that theme, too, in her detailed account. It might seem an odd or inappropriate theme for a story about a 19-year-old who died from a heroin overdose, but that really was the message the Clousings wanted to convey to others: Don't give up hope; you can make a difference to those in the throes of addiction.
Indeed, Keenan had moments of triumph as he battled heroin. That's why his parents advise others to attack the addiction "every moment of every day" and to try to get the loved one into rehab.
Patti told Cilella that the day after Keenan's death she was poignantly struck by something a Wheaton Warrenville counselor told her, comparing treatment of cancer with that of addiction: "Sometimes the chemotherapy works, and sometimes it doesn't. With cancer, we don't know why. And with addiction, sometimes rehab works and sometimes it doesn't, and we don't know why."
As you read the Clousings' story, you'll see there isn't an ounce of self-pity. You bet they miss their son, and they acknowledge his behavior caused problems within the family. But rather than turn inward, they've turned their energies toward helping others. In addition to today's account, they've shared Keenan's story with police officers, rehab centers and other teens. And they stress the message Keenan wrote about:
"Hope is all you got, when you got nothing at all."