- Associated Press - Friday, May 12, 2017

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Lynn Gilkey and her husband, David, had just loaded two dozen young people they mentor on a bus for a spring break trip in March that was supposed to give the teens hope. When word came that one of the teens supposed to make the trip had died the day before, killed by his own father, the Gilkeys pressed on.

They took the teens on a tour of colleges meant to show them a future beyond drugs, discouragement, racial discrimination and other looming threats.

On April 1, a week after they returned, Lynn Gilkey’s son, Ryan Marks, 26, collapsed. By afternoon, Gilkey was sedated and hospitalized along with Marks after they told her: “Your son is brain-dead.”

Two days later, surgeons took his organs for transplant and unhooked him from his breathing tube, after letting her listen to his heartbeat one last time.

She’s been celebrated by the White House and in Wichita for steering young people toward school and jobs and families and away from drugs. And now Marks had died after using K2, also known as spice, synthetic marijuana, Mojo and Black Mamba.

How could she be honored for fighting drugs and lose her own son?

For a few days, Gilkey could barely move.

But then she got mad. And pressed on again.

The Wichita Eagle (https://bit.ly/2qSAuzo ) reports that the Gilkeys never shied away from talking about their crack cocaine addictions and David’s prison time, even as they formed mentoring groups lauded by the White House, by friend and Koch Industries lawyer Mark Holden and by the Wichita school district.

“I am so inspired by the passion you bring to your work and the deep dedication you have to these young women,” President Obama’s senior counsel Valerie Jarrett wrote Lynn Gilkey last year after Jarrett spoke to Lynn Gilkey’s mentoring group in Wichita. “I also congratulate you on reshaping your own life so that you lead by example.”

Her own example failed with her son, Gilkey said.

“And I feel a terrible guilt.

“I had pleaded with him. David, too - it was a family effort. We begged him not to smoke K2.”

The rest of her life, she said, will be shaped by how she hopes to enhance the mentoring she and David already do, with a more passionate and personal testimony to what illegal drugs can do.

That’s one new passion, she said. There’s a second, also stemming from Marks‘ death.

At the hospital, after she was told there was no hope, she learned Marks had signed up long ago to be an organ donor.

She will spend the rest of her life asking people to become organ donors.

Only days ago, she learned that Marks‘ heart went to a 66-year-old man on the East Coast. His liver and one kidney went to a 67-year-old grandmother and great-grandmother suffering kidney failure. His other kidney went to a 58-year-old man with two children and four grandchildren.

Synthetic cannabinoid poisonings have increased significantly in the United States, according to a 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which warned that synthetic weed is two to 100 times more potent than regular marijuana.

Local hospitals and substance abuse treatment directors have warned it’s a growing problem in the Wichita area, in part because the K2 high is more intense than that for marijuana, in part because users can get high without losing their jobs or their freedom to a positive urine drug test.

Though authorities suspect the nationwide damage is severe, they say it’s hard to track.

“It’s mostly plant material,” said Harold Casey, who directs the Substance Abuse Center of Kansas. Tests can’t show it in the bloodstream like tests for marijuana or heroin. People who take it sometimes take other drugs, too, so hospitals can’t easily compile accurate statistics.

“It’s popular because you can be high as hell, stumbling around, and you still won’t produce a positive urine test for drugs,” Casey said. His center provides addiction services, including for prison inmates.

Howard Chang, medical director at the Via Christi Hospital-St. Francis emergency department, estimates the emergency department sees three to five cases per week involving synthetic marijuana. Patients often have rapid heart rates and elevated blood pressure. At times, they hallucinate or have seizures.

Part of the problem is that synthetic marijuana is made from a variety of chemicals, resulting in unpredictable responses.

“What you think you’re buying may not be what you tried last time,” Chang said. “No one knows how your body will react.

“Word is starting to get out that K2 is not as safe as you might think,” Chang said. “Now people realize there are stories out there of people dying from it or having seizures.

“It makes people belligerent, even crazy at times,” he said. “Every batch made is different, so you don’t know what you’re getting, or how strong it is or what’s in it. And it’s hard to make a law against it, because as soon as you make one batch illegal, somebody else puts in different ingredients, so it’s not illegal.”

David Gilkey, who does mentoring work in Kansas prisons, said inmates told him K2 is easy to get in prison. He’s told them it is deadly.

“It’s basically potpourri with chemicals sprayed on it including sometimes like Raid or other insecticides,” David Gilkey said.

Doctors have told Lynn Gilkey that they don’t know why Marks had a brain hemorrhage. She says it’s obvious: He smoked K2, sometimes a lot of K2. He sometimes had seizures, sweats, vomiting, and felt muscles in his body locking up on him when he smoked.

Those are common symptoms users have when they smoke too much K2 or smoke a bad batch, Casey said.

All those symptoms happened again on April 1, just before Marks‘ eyes rolled into the back of his head, Lynn Gilkey said.

She mentors more than 100 young women every year, advocating for school, jobs, family and good manners. David does the same with another 100 or so young men in his mentoring groups. Those young people now and in the years to come will hear how her son ended his life.

At Marks‘ funeral, Lynn Gilkey stood near his open casket.

She told his many young friends there how he’d died.

Take heed, she told them.

A month after Marks‘ death, he’s at least three things to his mother.

“He’s the son who would make me stop the car so he could get out and give a dollar or pocket change to a homeless person.”

He’s the son who saved lives with his donated organs.

And he is the son who died because he would not listen.

What she has to hold on to is a recording of her son’s heartbeat. A hope that someday she might meet the people to whom Marks donated his heart and other organs.

And she holds on to a hope that some of those young people she mentors will listen.

___

Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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