April 12, 2012 is a day Brigette Henschel will never forget.
When Henschel took the stage in the auditorium at New London High School during the second RISE Together presentation Jan. 22, she thanked the students for attending. She paused for a moment, and then began telling the students about her daughter, Amalia, whose photo was on the screen in the auditorium for the students to see.
Before Henschel started sharing her story, she introduced the students to Amalia. She took an urn from under the podium and placed it on a table for the students to see. She then began telling the students how heroin took her daughter from her.
She began by telling the students that she was sure that her daughter would want her to share the experience with others.
“Hopefully by hearing her story, everyone here will understand the consequences of making a bad decision when it comes to using drugs, and heroin in particular,” Henschel said.
She said parts of her daughter’s story may sound familiar.
Henschel said Amalia was a typical girl growing up, full of energy. She played softball in the summer and basketball in the winter. She also had lots of friends. She was on the traveling basketball team throughout high school.
During her freshman and sophomore years of high school, Amalia played volleyball, basketball and softball. She also got good grades, Henschel said.
“She was your typical all-American girl that every parent would be proud to have as their daughter,” Henschel said.
Things changed between her sophomore and junior year. She stopped playing sports, and started hanging out with different friends.
“These friends seemed like good kids,” Henschel said.
Even though she no longer played sports, Henschel said Amalia developed an interest in music and photography. The good grades in school also continued.
“So as a parent we thought everything was fine,” Henschel said.
During her senior year, she took classes at UW-Fox Valley to get a head start on college. She then attended college fulltime after high school graduation.
“We were proud of her because she really looked like she was heading in the right path in life,” Henschel said.
At this point, Henschel asked the students in attendance to listen closely, “so the last three years of Amalia’s life don’t sound like anything the next three years of your lives, because the bad choices Amalia made cost her, her life.”
Henschel said they noticed more changes after Amalia’s first year of college. She was having problems getting motivated for classes, or anything to do with her future.
“We gave her the benefit of the doubt and thought she might need some time to figure things out what she wanted to do with her life,” Henschel said.
Henschel admitted they knew Amalia was partying some in college, and expressed those concerns to her. But they also knew paryting a little can be part of college life.
They didn’t know the extent of her party life. They began finding marijuana and marijuana pipes in her room and car. They then started finding prescription painkillers even though they knew she wasn’t prescribed any.
They confronted Amalia about this and offered help.
“She just blew us off,” Henschel said.
Henschel said Amalia told them they were overreacting and she didn’t have a problem.
Things got worse over the next year, and they held an intervention for Amalia in the fall of 2011. Henschel said Amalia was put into treatment because they thought she had a prescription painkiller problem.
For four months, Amalia was in treatment in Oshkosh and Fond du Lac. She completed treatment the end of January 2012.
“It sure looked like she was a changed person, heading in the right direction,” Henschel said.
Henschel said one thing the family learned during treatment is that addiction is a disease and it is hard to overcome.
The evening of April 11, 2012, Amalia told her parents she was going to meet a girl friend who she hadn’t seen in awhile. Henschel said they knew this friend and they knew she would be good for Amalia. What they didn’t know was she was meeting a different friend before that. One they didn’t know.
While visiting the friend Amalia’s parents didn’t know, she did heroin, and then went to a bar.
“Within 15 minutes of arriving at that bar Amalia left that bar by herself and was found dead next to a porch located less than 100 yards from the back door of that bar,” Henschel said.
The cause of death was heroin.
Henschel said Amalia graduated from Wautoma High School in 2008, and until her daughter died, she never thought heroin could be found in schools in small central Wisconsin towns.
“We loved Amalia very much and I know your parents, your brothers, your sisters love you very much too, even though they don’t say it all the time or they don’t act like it all the time. So please think of them when you make that decision to use drugs,” Henschel said.
Henschel concluded, “The choices you make starting today will either help you achieve your hopes and your dreams, or if you choose to use drugs, it can, and it will end your life. Why take that chance?”
After the presentation, Henschel spoke with the New London Press-Star.
She said RISE Together helped her understand things about addiction. She said before becoming involved with RISE Together, she was angry at everybody.
Henschel said it was about a year after her daughter’s death when she got involved with RISE Together.
“I don’t want other families to feel this pain,” Henschel said about why she speaks to students about heroin use.
She added, “I want these kids to know that there are people out there who can help.”