WAYNESBURG, Pa. (AP) - Nearly two years ago, Lynn Bird’s two oldest daughters told her they would get sober as a Mother’s Day present to her. Later that year in 2014, they both died of heroin overdoses just four months apart.
“They said ‘For you, Mom, we’re both going to get clean,’ and they did for a while,” Lynn said last week. “It was devastating.”
Since their deaths, Lynn, who lives in Morris Township, Greene County, has been working with the Waynesburg nonprofit rehabilitation program Steps Inside to establish a sober-living facility close to home.
The first Oxford House in Waynesburg, a recovery home for men, opened in October 2014, but there were no options for women until recently. That changed Jan. 1 when she and Steps Inside collaborated to open the Bird Sisters Oxford House on North Richhill Street in Waynesburg in memory of Lynn Bird’s daughters, Jennifer Bird Porter, 32, and Megan, 30.
“They both wanted to go to a halfway house, but their insurance wouldn’t pay for it unless it was in Greene County and, at the time, there weren’t any,” Lynn said.
Lynn said her daughters’ addictions to heroin began after they graduated from West Greene High School. She said Megan attended Penn Commercial business/technical school to become a legal office assistant and later worked for local businesses doing secretarial and legal work.
“She loved music and her pit bull, Bucks,” Lynn said.
But at 20 years old, Megan started using heroin.
“It was very hard on our whole family,” Lynn said. “We just kept waiting on that dreaded phone call.”
Lynn said Megan tried several rehab facilities in the area and would often get clean, but she would always relapse.
“People need a lot more than two weeks or a month in rehab,” she said.
Meanwhile, Jennifer went to West Virginia Junior College to become a medical assistant and worked for a couple local medical offices. She loved painting, drawing and making jewelry. Jennifer got married in 2003. But she started using heroin after giving birth to her son in 2006.
Life with two addicts was difficult, Lynn said.
“They played mommy against each other,” Lynn said. “When I would find paraphernalia, they would blame the other one.
“They were best friends and were always together.”
Lynn said by 2014, the girls wanted change - they wanted recovery. That’s when they promised Lynn they’d get sober.
“They didn’t want to feel the way they felt anymore,” Lynn said.
Jennifer went into a rehab facility in Allegheny County for 21 days. Two days after she got out on May 16, she and Lynn had a date to get Jennifer’s hair cut.
“I was at work that day, and I kept calling her phone to make sure she was up so we could go,” Lynn said. “She never answered the phone.”
Eventually, a nurse from Washington Hospital answered and told Lynn that her daughter could not talk to her and that she should come to the hospital right away.
Lynn called her younger daughter Megan while on her way to the hospital to find out if their usual heroin dealer sold to Jennifer that morning. The answer was yes.
Jennifer had used heroin in a fast food restaurant’s parking lot in Washington just before crashing her car into a telephone pole. Lynn said the doctors initially told her Jennifer suffered head trauma from the collision, but police found needles and stamp bags in the car and tests revealed high levels of heroin in her system.
“I knew it was an overdose,” Lynn said.
For the next two days, Jennifer was on life-support, and the family never left her side.
“My husband and I had to pull the plug,” Lynn said.
The family buried Jennifer on Megan’s 30th birthday.
Megan had a hard time dealing with her sister’s death and decided to move in with her boyfriend. She took suboxone - a prescribed opioid to combat heroin addiction - but started misusing it to get high. It led her back to heroin.
The night before she died, Megan had a fight with her boyfriend and moved back in with her parents in Morris Township. Lynn said she used Jennifer’s old phone to contact their dealer, who came to Lynn’s house that night to deliver heroin to Megan.
The next morning, Lynn went upstairs and found Megan dead of an overdose.
Lynn said she, her husband and their third daughter, Ashlee, 25, want to see better education in the community about the dangers of heroin.
“We miss them a lot and talk about them a lot,” she said.
Lynn and her husband are now raising Jennifer’s 10-year-old son while continuing to push for funding to sustain the Bird Sisters Oxford House. Lynn’s gone door to door to businesses in the area to ask for donations.
“I’m doing this so that other families might not have to go through what I’ve been through,” she said while fighting back emotion.
Lynn said the house was purchased by a “friendly landlord,” whom she declined to name, for the purpose of it becoming a sober-living facility after the landlord heard about Lynn’s daughters.
Bonnie Fisher, a facilitator of the house, said when she saw the inside of the three-story home, the first thing she noticed was the wallpaper, which had birds on it.
“We took that as a sign that this was the right place,” Fisher said.
Fisher said the Oxford House model for recovery has been proven to work. It’s not like a typical halfway house because it’s monitored primarily by the residents themselves with peer support and a zero-tolerance for drugs or alcohol. The men’s Oxford House on Cumberland Street in Waynesburg has been operating at full occupancy for the past four months and has been widely viewed as a success since it opened, according to Robert Terry of Steps Inside.
Since Bird Sisters Oxford House opened nearly two months ago, the house has had three residents, although two of them left at the end of the first month.
Terry declined to offer reasons for their leaving, but said the house has three main rules: Residents must have zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol, pay a fair share of expenses and participate in the democratic process of running the house.
“If you’re not sincere and you don’t want to follow those three rules, then you can’t stay at the Oxford House,” Terry said.
Fisher is still looking for women to fill seven vacancies at the house. Until it is filled, the rent will come out of a start-up fund from donations.
Information from: Observer-Reporter, https://www.observer-reporter.com
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